By David goldman
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) – Nowadays you would have to struggle to find a place where there is no Wi-Fi network.
Wireless networks are everywhere. They are no longer limited to coffee shops and homes, they now encompass entire neighborhoods. Trains, planes and cars are already equipped with Wi-Fi networks. Cruise ships have Wi-Fi networks. Comcast has even turned each of its customers’ router into a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
That’s good news if you use a cell phone. The more emails you send, watch Netflix, listen to Pandora (P) and browse Facebook over a wireless network, the fewer gigabytes you have to buy from the company with which you have your cell phone. In addition, calls and texts can now also be made over a Wi-Fi network.
According to a Macquarie Group survey released last week, broadband customers who use Wi-Fi heavily and regularly save more than $ 30 a month on their wireless cell phone bill.
So what do you need your cell phone company for?
In Europe, many cell phone owners have already abandoned their wireless service providers. But Wi-Fi networks are not pervasive enough or resilient enough for most Americans to completely abandon their mobile phone providers for the time being.
Some people are also (rightly) concerned about the security of public Wi-Fi networks. A new generation of access points allow you to seamlessly switch between Wi-Fi and 4G-LTE service, and they offer you improved encryption. But, according to Macquarie forecasts, Wi-Fi security problems are not likely to be resolved until 2016.
“It will be several years before most American consumers even contemplate setting aside their LTE provider to choose a public Wi-Fi service offered by their cable company,” said Macquarie analyst Kevin Smithen.
Still, the clock is ticking for 4G technology.
The limitations of 4G are inherent in the technology that makes it work: radio waves are limited and you can only pack a limited amount of information into one MHz of spectrum. That is the reason why the two largest companies, AT&T; and Verizon, give their customers monthly limits on how much data they can use. According to Macquarie, only about a third of cable customers in the United States have an idea of the amount of data they download each month on Wi-Fi networks at home. However, two-thirds of mobile phone customers track their personal use.
Cable companies are already working on an alternative. The major broadband providers have come together, linking their Wi-Fi networks across the country, and even in many countries abroad. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also making a large new swath of radio waves available for Wi-Fi, which the big cable companies are sure to fight over.
This is possibly a major threat to the Big Four US wireless communications companies. Based on what Macquarie predicts, Verizon, for example, could be downloading nearly a quarter of its mobile data traffic over Wi-Fi networks by 2018, costing the company approximately $ 1.4 billion in annual losses.
Verizon could recoup those sales losses by partnering with cable companies like Comcast. Verizon could sell Comcast its wireless radio waves, giving it a 4G quad-play option.
That’s why wireless carriers will likely be vying for position with the goal of partnering with cable companies, particularly Comcast. Based on what Macquarie predicts, with Sprint’s network of 4G subbands, AT&T ties; With U-Verse, Verizon’s FiOS and congestion issues, T-Mobile is the wireless company most likely to conquer Big Cable.