Study: WiFi Will Have a Louder Voice

If some new forecasts hold up, the cable industry should have plenty to say about the future of voice-over-WiFi.

In the wake of Cablevision Systems’s plan to launch a WiFi-only phone service later this month, Cisco Systems released a study predicting that voice-over-WiFi (VoWiFi) traffic will surpass voice-over-LTE traffic by 2017.

That study, the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Data Traffic Forecast Update (2014-2019), predicts VoWiFi traffic will gobble up 10.8 Petabytes per year by 2017, outpacing VoLTE’s 10.7 PB. According to anticipated data trends, VoWiFi traffic appears poised to eclipse 30 PB per year by 2019.

Cisco, which views VoWiFI as a potential mobile app “wildcard,” also said VoWiFi minutes would leap ahead of VoLTE by 2018, holding that VoWiFi will represent 53% of all mobile IP voice by 2019, well ahead of 41% for VoLTE. The Cisco study also found that 46% of total mobile-data traffic was offloaded to WiFi in 2014, predicting the figure would rise to 54% in 2019.

In another nod to cable’s aggressive WiFi strategy, Cisco also predicted the number of WiFi-capable tablets and PCs, at 1.9 billion, would outnumber cellular-capable tablets and PCs (542 million) by 2019.

The Cisco study is its first to analyze VoWiFi, a service that can be delivered to devices without SIMs (subscriber identity modules) such as WiFi-only tablets, said the company, which based its findings on a mix of independent analyst forecasts and real-world mobile data usage studies.

Those findings coincide with the cable industry’s move to make carrier-grade WiFi a priority as deployments of hotspots expand and MSOs consider new ways to get returns on those investments.

Regarding footprint, members of the “Cable WiFi” roaming alliance (Comcast, Cablevision Systems, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable) have deployed more than 300,000 hotspots in businesses and public venues. Cablevision and Comcast have activated millions of so-called “homespots” within residential routers that emit secondary WiFi signals accessible to their respective cable-modem customers.

While access to those WiFi networks are being used as a perk for high-speed Internet customers, cable operators are believed to be considering WiFi-first mobile services that use cellular as a backup. Comcast, TWC, Bright House and Cox, for example, could embark on such a path if they decide activate an MVNO option tied to their multifaceted agreements with Verizon Wireless that included the sale of Advanced Wireless Services spectrum to the mobile carrier. Cablevision, which wasn’t tied into those deals, is going the WiFi-only route with its new Freewheel offering.