Why are companies such as Raleigh-based Republic Wireless offering mobile calling and data plans that utilize Wi-Fi and giants such as AT&T and Time Warner Cable expanding their Wi-Fi networks?

Because mobile data is heading that way big time.

A new report from Juniper Research in the U.K. spells out the trend – and the risks for providers.

Juniper forecasts that as much as 60 percent of all mobile data traffic will be carried by Wi-Fi networks by 2019 as consumers and businesses continue to go mobile. From tablets to smartphones to laptops tying in to wireless networks being used for calls to entertainment, Juniper says the data equivalent in just four years will be “over 6 billion Blu-ray movies.”

That’s over 115,000 petabytes, compared to 30,000 petabytes in 2015.

Time Warner Cable recently announced a big expansion of Wi-Fi access in the Triangle so people can get entertainment on-the-go. And AT&T is making Wi-Fi a big part of its GigaPower networks that not only are growing in the Triangle but now is available in Charlotte as of Monday.

Wi-Fi also could mean more companies such as Republic offering Wi-Fi based calling and data plans rather than more-expensive, metered cellular networks.

But are the providers ready for the challenges and for providing coverage areas consumers and businesses want?

“Operators need to deploy own Wi-Fi zones in problematic areas or partner with Wi-Fi hotspot operators and aggregators such as iPass and Boingo”, said research author Nitin Bhas.

Wi-Fi hotspots number more than 430 million in the U.S. last year, according to iPassm a Wi-Fi provider. That number is expected to double this year alone.

Report highlights include:

  • “Global mobile data traffic generated from devices including smartphones, featurephones and tablets forecast to exceed 197,000PB in 2019.
  • “Juniper estimates global smartphone data consumption to be nearly twice the amount of tablet traffic in 2015.
  • “Developing markets such as the Indian Subcontinent are forecast to witness higher growth rates and increased market share of the total mobile data traffic over the next 5 years; with operators in India already witnessing close to 100% y-o-y growth in data usage.
  • “North America and West Europe will together account for over 50% of the global mobile data being offloaded in 2019.”

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