Wi-Fi forecast predicts one hotspot for every 20 people by 2018

Worldwide audit for Wi-Fi network aggregator iPass reveals how public Wi-Fi might change in the next four years

A global survey of Wi-Fi hotspots carried out on behalf of network aggregator iPass has revealed how wireless will become a pervasive part of the lives of billions in the next four years.

The data, which was compiled by analysts at Maravedis Rethink, showed that by 2018, the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots deployed around the world will grow from 47.7 million right now, to more than 340 million.

By this logic, this will mean that in four years’ time there will be one hotspot for every 20 people on the planet, compared with one for every 150 today.

IPass specialises in Wi-Fi hotspot aggregation. Its network of networks securely connects business travellers through a single login to some 2.7 million public Wi-Fi hotspots in airports, hotels and other public areas in more than 120 countries.

It also found that while Europe currently has the most Wi-Fi estate installed, with 50% of the world’s hotspots, it will be overtaken by Asia soon.

Much of the growth will centre on community Wi-Fi and projects such as BT Fon, which siphon up a portion of a subscriber’s bandwidth for public use. There are 40 million such "homespots" today. By 2018, claimed iPass, there will be 325 million of them.

“For many years, all the talk around mobility has been on 3G/4G and a handful of mobile operators. Our data shows that in the coming years it’s Wi-Fi that will steal the limelight as consumers' thirst for data goes beyond anything that cellular can deliver, and as business owners see the value Wi-Fi brings to helping them differentiate and innovate,” said Peter White, co-founder of Maravedis Rethink.

Power shift

June Bower, iPass chief marketing officer, said the traditional power structures of the communications sector would be disrupted as Wi-Fi networks became more pervasive, with owners of customer businesses, such as hotels, shops, bars and cafes, seizing power from telco carrier providers.

She suggested that in a similar way to how Google enabled small businesses to better monetise their online assets through tools such as AdSense, so businesses would, in future, take control of their Wi-Fi networks.

“It comes down to how people are going to make money from their investment in Wi-Fi,” said Bower, “and that’s a very different model to traditional carrier networks. People are doing some very interesting things with Wi-Fi, such as using it to create brand loyalty.”

IPass said there could be a place for big over-the-top (OTT) platform providers, such as Facebook and Google, to begin to help Wi-Fi owners get paid in a meaningful way, whether that be through money, advertising or user data.

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