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Thursday, 07 March 2013 11:05

WiFi offload for cellular traffic inevitable says Cisco


Australia's mobile operators have so far eschewed offloading traffic to WiFi - a concept being embraced enthusiastically in other countries - but Cisco says its use is inevitable to cope with growing traffic demands and limited spectrum.

It is predicting that by 2017, 26 percent of data traffic from mobile devices in Australia will be offloaded to WiFi networks. However this figure pales in comparison to Cisco's forecasts for the US: 66% of mobile device data traffic to be carried over WiFi by 2017.

Globally, Cisco sees WiFi offload accelerating rapidly as a percentage of total mobile data traffic - which is growing rapidly. Its predictions come from its annual Mobile VNI index. In 2012 Cisco forecast WiFi offload, globally, would account for 22% of total mobile data traffic in 2016. Its 2013 forecast puts that at almost 40% and the 2017 figure at 46%.

Overall it expects Australian mobile data traffic to grow at a CAGR of 43% to 2017, reaching a monthly total of 75,000 terabytes, up from 13,000 terabytes in 2011.

Cisco has been producing its mobile data VNI along with its forecasts for fixed network Internet traffic for seven years. Cisco's vice president global technology policy, Dr Robert Pepper, said the forecasts were checked each year against real data gathered from many operators around the world and had proved to be consistently within 10 percent of actual traffic volumes.

Driving the traffic growth globally, but especially in Australia, Pepper said were the increasing percentage of smartphones and the growth of LTE. Globally smartphones' market share is forecast to reach 27.4% in 2017. In Australia it is already well in excess of that figure and is tipped to be 51.3% by 2017. By that time featurephones, which consume relatively little data, will account for only 2.4% of the installed base.

According to Cisco, in 2012, featurephones downloaded an average of 6.8MB per month compared to 342MB for smartphones and 1.3GB for LTE smartphones. By 2017 these figures are predicted to rise to 31MB, 2.66GB and 5.11GB respectively. Tablets are expected to take 5.34 GB but to still account for only 5.0 percent of the mobile device market by 2017.

Pepper said that, in addition to their attractiveness for cellular traffic offload, WiFi hotspots would present a number of monetisation opportunities through the delivery of location specific information.

In Australia both Optus and Vodafone have introduced femtocells, primarily to boost in-building coverage. Pepper said that femto was en extremely important technology, but with 1.1 to 1.2 billion WiFi enabled devices expected to be sold in 2013, would remain a niche technology.

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