Wi-Fi: The Unfaithful Partner in the Cellular Love/Hate Relationship

Wi-Fi Outgrows Cellular Data Adoption

2012 was a significant year for wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi has been around for some time now, and seems to have caught on as a huge “must-have” for average folks who cannot afford the luxury of data plans. Once upon a time, cellular data plans were luxuries; now, Wi-Fi has quietly stolen the crown.

Wi-Fi has proven to be a reliable “partner” for phone carriers and cellular data plans. Phone carriers do not have a problem with providing high data speeds and connectivity for excellent-paying customers; the problem, however, is with the wireless information super highway. The more high-paying customers a phone carrier has, the more of a weight on the mobile communication highway the phone carrier experiences. At some point, phone carriers are forced to abandon attractive “unlimited data” plans and enforce “data throttling after the first 100MB” rules. There are a few carriers such as T-Mobile, however, that no longer do this for those who pay for unlimited cellular data plans. Some carriers have not resorted to this; most of the non-data-throttling carriers, however, are mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs). MVNOs, by the way, rely on the Wi-Fi network of one of the major carriers. FreedomPop is an excellent example; it relies on the WiMax network that belongs to Sprint. Consumer Cellular, voted the top phone carrier in a recent Consumer Reports Study, is another MVNO that uses the network of a major phone carrier to service its customers.

In 2012, Wi-Fi proved to be a faithful partner; when carriers became overwhelmed in their cellular data plans, they turned to public Wi-Fi networks as a way to prevent data overload. US Cellular, my phone carrier, provides its own solution to cellular data plan overload, known as “Wi-Fi Now.” While the program seems attractive enough from the product description, I read the US Cellular contract and discovered that the service voids your smartphone warranty should you experience a virus or some sort of hacker event should you use it. This means that you may not want to worry about the WiFi Now application and use regular Wi-Fi in public (and a phone/wireless service, such as CenturyLink, at home).

Too much Wi-Fi, however, could prove to be disastrous in the New Year. Phone carriers look to Wi-Fi when they get in a cellular data bind; what they do not want to do, however, is give too much place to Wi-Fi so that customers start to rely fully on Wi-Fi and forget about or lose the need for cellular data plans. Phone carriers, as much as they hate to admit it, need customers to agree to two-year data plans; this allows them to make money off of each contract on a monthly basis and keep their data plans alive. The problem comes in when an individual no longer distinguishes between what Wi-Fi does and what cellular data plans do that Wi-Fi and cellular data plans may be on the brink of divorce. The divorce, however, may prove more fatal for cellular data plans than Wi-Fi. Google, at least, will see to this.