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Wifi hotspots set to more than triple by 2015

Wifi hotspot numbers are set to grow from 1.3 to 5.8 million globally in the next four years according to a report by market research company Informa Telecoms and Media.

Global public wifi hotspot numbers are set to grow from 1.3 million in 2011, to 5.8 million by 2015, marking a 350 per cent increase, according to research published by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), and compiled by Informa.

The findings from the WBA, the industry association focused on driving next generation wifi, also revealed that more than half – 58 per cent – of operators believe wifi hotspots are either “very important” or “crucial” to their customers’ experience, in order to offload busy mobile broadband networks and to provide a value-added services.

China Mobile alone is planning to deploy a million hotspots and Japan’s KDDI is planning to grow its 10,000 wifi hotspots to 100,000 within six months.

The growth in wifi hotspots will primarily be in three types of location: wide-area outdoor hot-zones, such as parks; local-area outdoor hot-zones, such as popular tourist attractions, and transport hubs, such as airports.

The findings also revealed that mobile data growth is a key factor in the build-out of wifi hotspots, as global mobile data traffic is expected to reach 16.84 million terabytes by 2014. The operators surveyed said that they intend to manage the impact of this growth primarily through new pricing strategies and wifi-based offload.

The survey, which took into account the views of 259 public wifi experts from across the world, found that smartphone connections to wifi hotspots will soon overtake laptop wifi connections globally. According to the research, laptops now represent just 48 per cent of the connections to hotspots, whereas smartphones account for 36 per cent and tablets 10 per cent.

However, there are several barriers to adoption of public wifi hotspots, such as cumbersome authentication procedures, costs of access, user discovery of available networks and security. One UK operator recently reported that only 20 per cent of its users access the free public hotspots available to them.

On the upside, several challenges will be overcome by next generation hotspots (NGH), according to the WBA. NGHs are currently being trialled internationally, and they allow users to seamlessly roam between cellular and wifi networks using their handset’s SIM card as authentication. This reduces concerns about authentication, network discovery and security.

“Fixed operators are extending broadband services beyond the home and office, and wifi is supporting busy mobile broadband networks,” commented Chris Bruce, chair of the WBA and CEO at BT Openzone. “Next Generation Hotspot trials are making inroads in the remaining barriers and by cracking the code of a simple, secure user experience hotspot use will continue to soar.”