According to The Economist, the internet will be used mainly on mobile devices by the end of 2013. Consulting company IDATE estimates that more people will access the internet via a mobile device than a fixed-line connection by 2014. Thus, internet service providers are working to keep your loyalty.
Given that the Pew Research Centers reports 10 percent of Americans access broadband only from a mobile device, you may believe that Wi-Fi hotspots will wane in popularity, but in fact the growing use of smartphones will only drive their use, especially with the advent of the Next Generation Hotspot.
The Growing Use of Mobile Phones
The same Pew report discovered 56 percent of Americans own some type of smartphone, whether it be an iPhone, Android or a similar device. Ten percent of Americans have a smartphone but no home broadband internet access. Of course not all web pages are optimized for use on a smartphone, so many people turn to using their smartphone as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing them to access the internet through a laptop or tablet device.
However the massive increase in the use of mobile devices for internet access is promising for traditional Wi-Fi hotspots of the kind frequently found in social venues such as cafes or airport terminals.
There are three reasons that mobile phone users, even those with data plans, will be dependent on Wi-Fi hotspots for the foreseeable future:
- Not all smartphone owners have a data plan. Most smartphones have a browser and internet capability but mobile providers charge extra for 3G or 4G internet access. These phones can only access the internet through a Wi-Fi network.
- There are limitations even for those smartphone users with a data plan. Coverage may not always be assured and connection speeds can vary, particularly since many data plans only allow a certain amount of data before throttling speeds. This makes using the phone with a Wi-Fi hotspot especially desirable to keep from using up valuable megabytes on a limited plan.
- Mobile providers aren’t equipped to keep up with the growing use of mobile broadband. Wireless data traffic is expected to grow 26 times its current size within the next five years, according to Cysco. This means that telecom networks are seeking to use Wi-Fi networks to subsidize some of that growing traffic and prevent congestion. As just one example, China Mobile, which has more subscribers than any other carrier in the world, deployed 1 million new hotspots in 2012 alone.
The Future of Wi-Fi Hotspots
Although Wi-Fi networks are not growing in use as quickly as mobile networks, they are expected to grow in use 400 percent by 2015 and are likely to continue to grow because of the large number of handheld devices with wireless capability.
Smartphones, which overtook laptops as the most popular way to use a Wi-Fi hotspot in 2012, are the largest area of growth but Wi-Fi devices such as the Sony PSP and iPod touch are expected to grow in use as well. In-Stat research estimated that the use of Wi-Fi capable devices would grow from 108.8 million to 177.3 million between 2009 and 2013, and those numbers can only get larger.
The Next-Generation Hotspot (NGH) represents the future of Wi-Fi hotspots, particularly in light of the increasing use of mobile phones. A major complaint of public wireless networks in the past has been security. Access is also frequently an issue, with users needing both the name of the network and the password. However the NGH, with backing from the telecom industry, will address these issues. A user’s phone will automatically be able to access it seamlessly through an automatic network selection and even choose whether to use the hotspot or the mobile network depending on the best value.
Wi-Fi hotspots can expect to enjoy sustained growth for years to come as they become more integrated with mobile technology. As just one example of how mobile carriers plan to use them to reduce congestion in cellular networks, the PGA Tour installed 14-Wi-Fi hotspots for fans to use. Many expect that this tactic may be followed for other large gatherings of mobile users that may congest networks, such as football games.