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Pervasive Wireless Usage Caps Drive Users to Free Wi-Fi Alternatives, Other Carriers

Phillip Dampier June 8, 2011 Data Caps, Wireless Broadband No Comments

The more wireless carriers try to impose punitive usage caps on their customers, the more they will shop elsewhere for wireless service or turn to free Wi-Fi alternatives.  Those are the results of an important new report from Devicescape, a Wi-Fi advocate and software creator that allows for seamless Wi-Fi connections.

At the very top of the findings of the latest quarterly report: consumers overwhelmingly continue to despise usage caps and other Internet Overcharging schemes.  At least 73 percent suggest they will take their business elsewhere if their provider cancels their unlimited usage data plan, with 80 percent making changes in how they consume wireless data — especially moving usage to free Wi-Fi networks and off 3G/4G networks.

Almost 90 percent of smartphone users already connect to Wi-Fi at home and on the road, with 64 percent using Wi-Fi hotspots at work and in shops and restaurants at least once a day.

The report also makes it clear consumers want a hassle-free Wi-Fi experience.  It should be free and open access, with no annoying PIN codes or passwords.

Wi-Fi is quickly becoming an expectation more than a treat, and businesses and communities that don’t provide it will increasingly be judged negatively by some consumers.  An even greater negative reaction can be expected from those who treat Wi-Fi access as a profit center.  Customers don’t like paying extra for access at hotels, restaurants, or while browsing around shopping malls or business centers.  Forget about annoying login or customer agreement screens as well.

While many consumers claim they will switch wireless carriers over usage caps, in reality few are currently doing so for several reasons:

  1. The alternative providers still offering unlimited use plans are perceived as having lower quality coverage areas (eg. Sprint);
  2. Most major carriers have grandfathered their sizable base of “unlimited plan” devotees, allowing them to retain the popular plans even as they discontinue them for new customers;
  3. Customers ultimately have few choices for unlimited service.

Where customers are stuck with a usage-capped data plan, they economize wherever possible.  In particular, many rely on Wi-Fi service instead of the wireless service provided by their wireless provider.

Ironically, that’s fine with many carriers, especially AT&T, which has been promoting efforts to offload as much 3G traffic as possible onto local Wi-Fi hotspots instead.

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