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The number of public wifi “hotspots” in the world is set to grow to more than 47.7 million by the end of this year, according to new research.
The study by wifi network provider iPass and research firm Maravedis Rethink also predicted that the number of hotspots would rise to more than 340 million by 2018, which would represent a hotspot for every 20 people on the planet. Currently there is a hotspot for every 150 people.
It also revealed that France is currently the country with the most public hotspots followed by the US and UK. Although Asia, especially China, is expected to catch up over the next four years with the continent overtaking Europe as the region with the most hotspots.
Evan Kaplan, CEO of iPass, said: “Most of the devices we use are wifi only and even on the most advanced 4G handsets, 78% of data goes over wifi. 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.”
Wifi is also being increasingly rolled out on flights and trains and this will gather pace in the next few years. Currently only 16% of aircraft and 3% of trains have wifi, but this is predicted to increase to 60% of aircraft and 11% of trains by 2018.
Peter White, co-founder of Maravedis Rethink, added: “For many years, all the talk around mobility has been on 3G and 4G and a handful of mobile operators.
“Our data shows that in the coming years it’s wifi that will steal the limelight as consumers thirst for data goes beyond anything that cellular can deliver, and as business owners see the value wifi brings to helping them differentiate and innovate.”
The report argues that wifi’s advantage over mobile connectivity is the much wider range and number of wifi providers with 50% of commercial hotspots being provided by companies that are not telecommunications specialists. Conversely, 3G and 4G services are limited to a handful of traditional telecoms service providers.
Kaplan added: “A messy and fragmented global wifi network is emerging; the challenge is that it needs to be easy for consumers to access and simple for providers to monetise. This is where we’ll see the platform players like Facebook and Google come to the party.”