Skip to main content

As unlimited data plans grow more popular, Wi-Fi loses its dominance

Folks across the U.S. are ditching Wi-Fi in favor of unlimited wireless. That, at least, appears to be the conclusion that OpenSignal has drawn in its latest report published this week. As major cellphone service providers continue to re-introduce unlimited data to their content-hungry customers, it looks like folks are spending more time surfing the web on their phones in Wi-Fi free zones, rather than looking for free Wi-Fi to connect to.

As per OpenSignal’s data, time on Wi-Fi has fallen for three out of the four major carriers (the big four being Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint). The top two carriers, AT&T and Sprint, actually saw the greatest reduction in time spent on Wi-Fi, proving that as more folks opt for unlimited data, they care less about saving data by ducking into Starbucks at every opportunity. Instead, they’re just relying on their 4G and LTE networks.

To be fair, OpenSignal is not observing drastic reductions in Wi-Fi time — AT&T and Verizon both saw 3-point reductions, from 52 percent to 49 percent, and 54 percent to 51 percent, respectively. T-Mobile customers spent 41 percent of their time on Wi-Fi, down from 43 percent a year ago. Only Sprint stayed steady at 51 percent.

“As competition in the U.S. market grows, all four operators have launched competitive unlimited data plans, and as more and more customers migrate to these plans, users are likely becoming more confident about consuming data over cellular networks without worrying about racking up big bills,” OpenSignal noted in a blog post explaining the results.

And although more significant decreases in time spent on Wi-Fi were observed for AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile customers actually spend the least amount of time on Wi-Fi. This isn’t all that surprising, given that the company has offered unlimited plans for more than five years, and has been particularly vocal about its cap-less plan this year.

But as more people spend more time on data rather than Wi-Fi, there are some negative consequences. In OpenSignal’s most recent State of Mobile Networks: USA report, both AT&T and Verizon saw drops in their 4G speeds. T-Mobile still leads in both 4G speed and availability metrics, and alas, Sprint has stayed in last place (though it’s making gains of its own).

Even as Wi-Fi use appears to decline, it doesn’t mean that these networks are ever going to fully disappear. After all, data-intensive activities still require Wi-Fi, and most people still would rather connect to Wi-Fi while at home on their computers than depend upon a hot spot. Still, as unlimited data plans continue to evolve, we’ll have to see how much longer Wi-Fi maintains its relevance.

Editors' Recommendations

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
TP-Link rolls out its first midrange router sporting Wi-Fi 6 software specs
TP-Link's AX50 is a Wi-Fi 6 router that delivers tremendous value.

Earlier this week, networking hardware manufacturer TP-Link rolled out a new home router shipping with Wi-Fi 6 capabilities, the Archer AX50. This new entry drops into the company's burgeoning Wi-Fi 6 product lineup between its little brother, the modest Archer AX10, and its hulking older cousins, the Archer AX6000 and AX11000, giving people looking to increase their home network speeds a dependable midrange choice.

Currently, the array of Wi-Fi 6 routers make for slim pickings, but although TP-Link has not yet announced the price of its new Archer AX50, if past models in the company's Archer line are any indication, it could provide a more affordable alternative to the almost exclusively high-end offerings launched by competitors so far. The Intel chipset at the heart of the AX50 allows it to tap into all the marquee features of the Wi-Fi 6 standard, including multi-user, multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO) antenna transmission for handling more devices at once, target wake time (TWT) for battery optimization, and orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) for making more efficient use of radio spectrum, among many others.

Read more
American Airlines expands its fast in-flight Wi-Fi, but it will still cost you
computer glitch american airlines christmas plane

Major airlines are slowly but surely responding to customer calls for better in-flight Wi-Fi.

The biggest change has come with the introduction of satellite-based systems that offer better coverage and faster speeds than the older ground-based alternatives.

Read more
Every Samsung gadget we still expect in 2024
A person folding up the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5.

Sure, the Samsung Galaxy S24 range is out, but don't think that's it for Samsung's 2024. The Korean company still has a lot to share, from folding smartphones to new watches and even an entirely new product range. As ever, it's going to be a massive year for Samsung, and many of its releases are sure to end up as staples on our various best-of lists.

The rumor mills are abuzz with whispers and leaks, and it's giving us plenty to look forward to. Here's the lowdown on every Samsung gadget we still expect to see in 2024, along with when we think they'll be officially revealed to the world.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 (July 2024)

Read more