Global Wi-Fi network iPass has unveiled the results of a first ever attempt to produce an inventory of hotspot coverage around the globe in an interactive map.
A picture emerges of a fragmented global network which iPass believes a large multi-national player like Facebook, Google or Microsoft could help providers monetise.
More than half of all commercial hotspots are controlled by brands whose core business is not telecommunications, suggesting a “power shift” from the big mobile players.
Evan Kaplan, president and chief executive of iPass, said: “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. They have the ability to help this new breed of Wi-Fi provider get paid in meaningful currencies – namely cash, advertising or user data.
“Just look back 10 years or so, many businesses were under-utilising their online assets before the emergence of Google AdSense, now many are making significant revenues from it.”
The Wi-Fi map allows users to see how coverage is predicted to grow over the next four years to 2018 by both country and region.
It also provides data on Wi-Fi availability among operators of transport services, like trains and planes.
It predicts Wi-Fi will be available on 60% of planes and 11% of trains by 2018, compared to only 16% of planes and 3% of trains equipped this year.
The data show the coverage of community or public ‘homespot’ hotspots versus corporate-controlled ones, like those provided by coffee chain Starbucks.
• France is the “country of Wi-Fi” in 2014 with the most hotspots in total, followed by the US and UK. By 2018 this will change to the USA, followed by China and France.
• Europe is the “continent of Wi-Fi” with 50% of the world’s Wi-Fi estate in 2014. By 2018, Asia will claim this title.
• Today, China has five times more commercial Wi-Fi hotspots than any other country.
• Community Wi-Fi has been driven by Europe and then North America, but Asia will catch up in 2018.
• 14.2 million Wi-Fi hotspots are enabled for roaming between different provider networks today; this number rises to over 280 million in 2018.
June Bower, iPass chief marketing officer, said: “iPass wanted to understand how many hotspots there are in the world and where are they going, what’s the coverage going to be like in 2018.
“We learned some very interesting things that are affecting the travel experience today and will do so in the future.
“Unlike with a mobile carrier you have all these different players who can put hotspots up. The local coffee shop can do it or Starbucks or big firms putting hotpots in your home and taking a little bit for the public to use.
“So you’ve got this really diverse eco-system. Although there’s a lot of them they only broadcast across a very small space. A lot are standalone but a then there’s a group that’s starting to connect into larger networks.
“The challenge for the business traveller is they either have to pay a lot or log into multiple free hotspots and have to put their credentials in and end up getting spammed.”
The study, conducted by analysts Maravedis Rethink, shows there will be 47.7 million public Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide by the end of 2014.
The map shows that over the next four years, global hotspot numbers will grow to over 340 million; nearly one Wi-Fi hotspot for every twenty people on earth by 2018. This compares to one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people today.
Kaplan said: “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.
“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.”
Peter White, co-founder, Maravedis Rethink, said: “The growth in community hotspots is taking public Wi-Fi from the cities to the suburbs.
“The fixed line operators with superfast broadband in the ground are converting residential customers to community hotspot providers at the rate of 1 per second.
“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.”