UK Public Wi-Fi Network To Rise To 14m Hotspots By 2018

Wireless broadband, Wi-Fi © 24Novembers, Shutterstock 2012

There will be a Wi-Fi hotspot for every 20 people in the world, says iPass

The number of public Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK is set to increase from 5.6 million to 14 million over the next four years, according to new research from iPass and analyst firm Maravedis.

There are currently 202,944 commercial Wi-Fi networks and 5,409,000 community hotspots in Britain, a 33 percent increase from 2013, figures that will jump to 491,101 and 13,547,231 by 2018, the report says.

Globally, public wireless networks will increase from 47.7 million to 340 million, as retailers, airlines and train operators increase their footprint, while the idea of “community” hotspot will spread from Europe and North America will spread to Asia.

iPass Wi-Fi research

Wi-Fi (c) marinini, Shuttersctock 2013In four years’ time there will be a public hotspot for every 20 people on the planet, although this varies significantly by region. In North America there will be a network for every four people but just one for every 40 in Africa and the Middle East.

Half of the world’s hotspots are currently located in Europe, with France the most connected country, but Asia will have more public wireless locations than any other continent and the US and China will lead the French by then too. Indeed, China today has five times more commercial hotspots than any other country.

Evan Kaplan, CEO of iPass, says the report’s findings illustrate how Wi-Fi is increasingly important to mobile users despite the prevalence of superfast 4G cellular networks.

Vodafone and EE offer speeds of up to 150Mbps in some parts of the UK if users have a compatible handset, but Kaplan argues that many devices don’t have cellular connectivity while many can’t access speeds that satisfy these demands.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen the emergence of the ‘Wi-Fi first’ generation. Wi-Fi has become cool again; in fact it’s seen by most as an essential utility, just like water or electricity,” he says. “Most of the devices we use are Wi-Fi only and even on the most advanced 4G handsets, 78% of data goes over Wi-Fi. Simply put, it’s the network of choice for consumers and soon they’ll be able to roam this alternative network of millions of hotspots.”

Challenge to operators?

iPass does not own any hotspots itself and instead agrees partnerships with various providers to offer businesses a single log-in and billing service that promises to make it easier and cheaper to use wireless Internet services around the world.

The report claims that 50 percent of all public Wi-Fi networks are operated by companies whose main business is not telecommunications – something that will present a major challenge to mobile operators in the future and encourage more firms to enter the market.

“A messy and fragmented global Wi-Fi network is emerging; the challenge is that it needs to be easy for consumers to access and simple for providers to monetise,” Kaplan adds. “This is where we’ll see the platform players like Facebook and Google come to the party. They have the ability to help this new breed of Wi-Fi provider get paid in meaningful currencies – namely cash, advertising or user data.”

However BT, one of the UK’s largest providers of public Wi-Fi, plans to use its wireless infrastructure in the construction of a national mobile network. It hopes to handle as much traffic as possible via Wi-Fi to reduce the amount it must pay its Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) partner EE.

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