Comment : Mobile phone networks overtake WiFi on the move

A year of heavy marketing of mobile broadband has pushed the mobile phone networks ahead of WiFi hotspots as the most popular way of accessing the internet on the move.

Point Topic’s recent survey of mobile broadband users shows that the UK mobile phone companies have managed to grow their market share to 47% of users accessing the internet away from home or work.

This compares to 42% who prefer WiFi hotspots. A year earlier the ratio was 40:30 in favour of WiFi.

The research shows that 26% of those who use a mobile network to access the internet are with O2. Orange and Vodafone each take about 20% of the market. T-Mobile and 3 have 14% and 12% respectively.

“But O2 isn’t the first choice of the new wave users who’ve got dongles or data cards to connect to the network,” says Tim Johnson, Chief Analyst at Point Topic. “Vodafone is top in dongle-user market share with 24% of respondents. O2 comes in at 23% followed by Orange, T-Mobile and 3.”

It is much more difficult to get users to identify their preferred WiFi operators as most of them are more likely to think of WiFi access in terms of where they do it rather than which network they use. That said BT Openzone came top of the operators that were identified.

Churn is low, but not for everyone.

Only 10% of mobile internet users say they plan to change operator in the next 6 months, although this may relate to the lengthy contracts often required for MI users. Those that are churning tend to be at the younger and lower income end of the spectrum.

“There are operators that are losing out. Vodafone and Orange both have a larger share of churners relative to their market share. 22% of respondents who churned had been with Vodafone and 24% with Orange,” says Johnson.

Given that all the major mobile operators have coherent sets of high speed data offerings based around handsets as well as dongles, Point Topic believes it is likely that in the short term they will continue to increase their market share versus WiFi.

The mobile operators have a big size advantage over the WiFi service providers, who are relatively small and fragmented.

But it is a lot cheaper to send data over WiFi and, unlike the mobile networks, WiFi has no problems with capacity. “So we see dual-mode operation, with mobile broadband users defaulting to WiFi where it’s available, as the way of the future,” says Johnson.