Wireless & Mobile Landscape

U.S. Mobile Data on Unlicensed Spectrum, 2016-2021: How will Wi-Fi Offload and Unlicensed LTE help meet demand?

As mobile operators have deployed more LTE over the past few years, the demand for high speed mobile data has also increased. One way to supply that demand is for mobile operators to acquire more spectrum, but licensed spectrum is expensive and rare. The other option for mobile operators is to use unlicensed spectrum in one of two ways:

  • Offload traffic to a Wi-Fi network
  • Use unlicensed spectrum (specifically, 5 GHz) for LTE.

Although a few years ago Wi-Fi Offload was seen as the primary method for mobile operators to take advantage of unlicensed spectrum, in the last two years, there has been significant interest in (and controversy surrounding) the use of LTE on unlicensed spectrum, specifically 5 GHz.

This market study provides a discussion of the options available for mobile operators. It discusses both user-driven and carrier-driven Wi-Fi Offload, gives updates on the deployment of the related technologies, and discusses the benefits and issues surrounding its continued and expanded deployment.

The market study also discusses the various types of Unlicensed LTE technology that allow LTE to be used in the unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum band, including LTE-U, LAA, LWA and MulteFire. It discusses the controversy surrounding their use and gives updates regarding its deployment in the U.S.

Finally, a five-year forecast is provided, which shows the amount of U.S. Wi-Fi Offload traffic and unlicensed LTE traffic and how this number compares to the total amount of U.S. mobile data traffic.


Key Questions Answered

  • What is user-driven and carrier-driven Wi-Fi Offload?
  • What are some of the key standards efforts associated with Wi-Fi offload?
  • What are the benefits and issues associated with Wi-Fi offload?
  • What is Unlicensed LTE?
  • What is the 5 GHz band and why is it important?
  • What are LTE-U, LAA, LWA and MulteFire? How are they the same? And how do they differ?
  • What is Listen Before Talk and why is it important?
  • What are the benefits and issues associated with Unlicensed LTE?
  • When will Unlicensed LTE technology be deployed?
  • How much U.S. mobile data traffic is expected to be put on unlicensed spectrum (using both Wi-Fi Offload and Unlicensed LTE) over the next five years?

Who Should Read

  • Mobile operators, particularly those servicing the U.S. market
  • Mobile backhaul providers, including telcos and cable MSOs
  • Wired and wireless backhaul vendors and solution providers
  • Mobile OEMs, particularly those servicing the U.S. market
  • Wired and wireless infrastructure vendors, particularly those servicing the U.S. market
  • Financial and investment analysts.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Executive Summary
    • Wi-Fi Offload
    • Unlicensed LTE
    • Combined Impact of Wi-Fi Offload and Unlicensed LTE
  • Methodology
  • Unlicensed Spectrum – Overview
    • Wi-Fi
    • Unlicensed LTE
  • Wi-Fi
    • Types of Wi-Fi Networks
    • Types of Wi-Fi Business Models
  • Wi-Fi Offload
    • Why offload?
    • Adoption of Offload
    • Benefits of Wi-Fi Offload
    • Potential Issues with Wi-Fi Offload
  • Wi-Fi Offload Standards
    • Wi-Fi Standards
    • Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0
    • Wi-Fi Roaming
    • VoWiFi
    • ANDSF
  • Wi-Fi Networks
    • CableWiFi Alliance
    • Comcast
    • Altice USA
    • Charter
    • Other Wi-Fi Networks
  • Unlicensed LTE
    • The 5 GHz Band
    • A Quick Aside on Spectrum
    • How Wi-Fi Shares
    • LTE-U
    • How does LTE-U Share?
    • What’s the Issue with LTE-U?
    • Evolve Forum
    • LAA
    • LWA
    • Qualcomm MulteFire
    • The Cage Match
    • Unlicensed LTE Developments
      • Deployment Status Summary
  • Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Methodology
    • Connections, not Subscribers
    • Quartiles
  • Data Traffic on Unlicensed Spectrum Methodology
    • Wi-Fi Offload
      • Assumptions
      • Methodology for User-Driven Wi-Fi Offload
      • Methodology for Carrier-Driven Wi-Fi Offload
    • Unlicensed LTE
      • Assumptions
      • Methodology for Unlicensed LTE
  • Mobile Data Traffic on Unlicensed Spectrum Forecast
    • Wi-Fi Offload
    • Unlicensed LTE
    • Combined Forecast for Wi-Fi Offload and Unlicensed LTE
  • Vendor Profiles
    • Accuris Networks
    • Airspan Networks
    • Alcadis ISP Solutions
    • Altice
    • Anyfi Networks
    • Aptilo Networks
    • Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company
    • AT&T
    • Boingo
    • Broadcom Limited
    • Cambium Networks
    • CenturyLink, Inc.
    • Charter Communications, Inc.
    • Cisco
    • Comcast Corporation
    • Cox Communications
    • Devicescape
    • Ericsson
    • Federated Wireless
    • GCI
    • Gogo
    • Google
    • Huawei
    • InterDigital
    • iPass
    • NetScout Systems
    • Nokia Networks
    • Qualcomm
    • Ruckus Wireless
    • SpiderCloud Wireless
    • T-Mobile US
    • Verizon
    • Way4orth
    • XCellAir
    • Xirrus
  • Definitions
    • General
    • Device Types
    • Services
    • Network Technology
  • About iGR
    • Disclaimer

List of Tables

  • Table 1: Mobile Data and Wi-Fi Offload Connections (000), 2016-2021
  • Table 2: Total Wi-Fi Offload Traffic by Type (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Table 3: Total Wi-Fi Offload Traffic by Type (Percent), 2016-2021
  • Table 4: Wi-Fi Offload Traffic Compared to Mobile Data Traffic, 2016-2021
  • Table 5: Mobile Data and Unlicensed LTE Connections (000), 2016-2021
  • Table 6: Mobile Data Traffic by Licensed and Unlicensed LTE (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Table 7: Mobile Data Traffic by Licensed and Unlicensed LTE (Percent), 2016-2021
  • Table 8: Wi-Fi Offload and Licensed and Unlicensed Mobile Data Traffic (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Table 9: Wi-Fi Offload and Licensed and Unlicensed Mobile Data Traffic (Percent), 2016-2021

List of Charts and Figures

  • Figure A: Total Wi-Fi Offload Traffic by Type (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure B: Mobile Data Traffic by Licensed and Unlicensed LTE (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure C: Wi-Fi Offload and Licensed and Unlicensed Mobile Data Traffic (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure 1: Simplified 5 GHz Band Plan
  • Figure 2: How LTE-U Shares Unlicensed Spectrum
  • Figure 3: 3GPP View of Unlicensed LTE
  • Figure 4: Overview of How LWA Work
  • Figure 5: Mobile Data and Wi-Fi Offload Connections (000) , 2016-2021
  • Figure 6: Total Wi-Fi Offload Traffic by Type (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure 7: Total Wi-Fi Offload Traffic by Type (Percent), 2016-2021
  • Figure 8: Wi-Fi Offload Traffic Compared to Mobile Data Traffic (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure 9: Mobile Data and Unlicensed LTE Connections (000)
  • Figure 10: Mobile Data Traffic by Licensed and Unlicensed LTE (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure 11: Mobile Data Traffic by Licensed and Unlicensed LTE (Percent), 2016-2021
  • Figure 12: Wi-Fi Offload and Licensed and Unlicensed Mobile Data Traffic (TB/Month), 2016-2021
  • Figure 13: Wi-Fi Offload and Licensed and Unlicensed Mobile Data Traffic (Percent), 2016-2021

For additional information on the U.S. Mobile Data on Unlicensed Spectrum Forecast, 2016-2021: How will Wi-Fi Offload and Unlicensed LTE help meet demand? market study, please contact Iain Gillott, at (512) 263-5682 or by email.