According to a recent study on the Wi-Fi hotspot market, tier 1 mobile operators expect 22 percent of all additional data capacity added during the 2013-2014 timeframe to come from Wi-Fi offload.

By 2018, Wi-Fi offload was forecast to contribute 20 percent of additional mobile data capacity plus a further 21 percent will come from small cells with integrated Wi-Fi. The study was conducted by Maravedis-Rethink and commissioned by The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA.)

The report also found that mobile data offload accounted for an average of 20 percent of data traffic, which was up to 80 percent in densely populated areas such as transport hubs and cafes. Within homes and businesses offload levels were 50 percent to 60 percent.

The survey also found that 51 percent of respondents, with 56 percent of those being operators, were more confident about investing in Wi-Fi to supplement cellular than they had been a year earlier. The study said the renewed confidence was attributed to increased hotspot deployments and more ambitious business plans announced by some carriers, as well as the improvements made to Wi-Fi through enhanced roaming agreements and WBA initiatives such as Next Generation Hotspot (NGH).

Maravedis-Rethink forecast a steady annual increase in hotspots deployed from 5.2 million in 2012 to 10.5 million in 2018. Of the hotspot owners, 27 respondents had networks of more than 1,000 locations and six had more than one million. By contrast, almost 10 percent of those that supported roaming had access to networks of over one million locations.

The CableWiFi alliance, which was announced at last year’s Cable Show in Boston, includes hotspots from Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks. Collectively the MSOs in the partnership have laid claim to having the largest Wi-Fi network in the nation with more than 300,000 access points.

The study said operators were rapidly expanding the access they provide via the roaming agreements, and as the process becomes simplified and standardized the trend was expected to accelerate. Monetization strategies also came up as an important consideration with the most significant being Wi-Fi offload, closely followed by location-based services such as targeted adveritsing, and enterprise applications.

With regards to NGH deployments, 78 percent of those planning to launch an NGH network will do so by end of 2015. Boingo Wireless recently led the way by launching the world’s first commercial Next Generation Hotspot Wi-Fi network at Chicago O’Hare Airport. Over half the respondents said that the most pressing driver for NGH investment was to increase offload from cellular networks, closely followed by the need to increase customer satisfaction, increase revenues and facilitate seamless roaming.

"Public Wi-Fi is steadily maturing and is now being embraced by an ever growing number of operators. NGH brings significant improvements in terms of quality of service and ease of use, bringing a cellular experience to Wi-Fi,” said Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the WBA. “This research shows an increasingly positive attitude towards public Wi-Fi which is largely thanks to the strength of the ecosystem and the technical and commercial progress to make NGH deployments possible. Going forward, we are excited about the building momentum for the technology and the benefits it beings to both end-users and the industry. The focus has to be on continuing efforts to cement NGH as a commercial reality and defining a new ‘carrier grade’ of Wi-Fi that will bring significant benefits to the industry.”

The survey, carried out during the third quarter of this year, had a total of 197 respondents with 56 percent of those being operators. Within that group, two-thirds were fixed or mobile operators and one-third were WISPs or pure-play Wi-Fi operators. North America and Asia-Pacific fielded almost 30 percent of respondents each, followed by Europe at 28 percent.

“This year’s survey doesn’t just show major growth ahead for public Wi-Fi deployments, but a strong focus on overall customer experience rather than just speed and convenience. Quality of experience will drive a variety of new business models based on Wi-Fi, and two of the essential enablers are being driven by the WBA – global roaming and Next Generation Hotspot,” said Caroline Gabriel, research director, Maravedis-Rethink.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cisco, Intel and Google are some of the WBA’s members.