Smartphones Overtake Laptops as the Most Popular Way to Connect to Wi-Fi Hotspots

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the industry association focused on driving the next generation Wi-Fi experience, today published a report on the Wi-Fi hotspot market compiled by global research company Informa Telecoms & Media. The survey revealed smartphone-based hotspot connections now outnumber those from laptops for the first time. This trend is set to accelerate as the industry moves toward the deployment of Next Generation Hotspots (NGH), based on open industry standards, which will make it even easier for the rapidly increasing number of smartphone owners to use the technology.

The survey revealed that hotspot connections are now led by smartphones (40%), followed closely by laptops (39%) and then tablets (17%) which have seen rapid growth since their recent emergence. The survey also highlighted rapid deployment of NGH, which is based on Passpoint™ certified equipment, with 19% of operator respondents planning to deploy by the end of 2013. NGH dramatically simplifies public Wi-Fi access, especially from smartphones, by allowing secure connections without the need for usernames and passwords, and is seen as a vital tool for offloading busy mobile broadband networks.

The telecoms industry is showing an increasingly positive attitude towards public Wi-Fi with 43% of all respondents describing themselves as ‘more bullish’ over the past year regarding future investment in the technology. The survey also highlights the major potential of Wi-Fi roaming with 75% of operator respondents claiming under 10% of their overall user base connects to hotspots while travelling. NGH is a critical means of increasing international usage by allowing users to automatically connect to hotspots where their operator has a roaming agreement.

The survey also found that future public Wi-Fi hotspot growth will be focused in four types of location: wide-area outdoor hotzones (e.g. parks); transport hubs (e.g. airports); and social venues (e.g. bars and cafes), with local-area outdoor hotzones (e.g. popular tourist attractions) expected to see the bulk of traffic. These deployments will be in parallel with 4G LTE deployments with over 70% of survey respondents planning to continue investing in both technologies.

The report does highlight several barriers to wider adoption and use of public Wi-Fi hotspots including network authentication, availability of a common roaming standard and 3G/Wi-Fi interworking. However, several of these challenges will be overcome by NGH which is currently in phase two of an international trial project involving over 50 major industry players including AT&T, Boingo, BSkyB, BT, China Mobile, Cisco, Ericsson, KT Corporation, NTT DOCOMO, Orange and Time Warner Cable.

“These findings show that public Wi-Fi is now a crucial part of the mobile experience and this is set to grow enormously with the impending NGH deployments. Large operators are already seeing a significant increase in Wi-Fi usage. China Mobile, for example, saw a 102.5% year-on-year increase in Wi-Fi traffic in H1 2012 and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo plans to grow its 14,200 hotspots by as much as 1.5 times before the end of the year,” said JR Wilson, Chairman of the WBA. “In order to sustain this momentum, it is essential that operators continue to work together and employ open standards thereby creating a truly global Wi-Fi network. This is the key aim of the WBA and one that will progress significantly over the next 12 months as advanced NGH trials and deployments take place.”

“Standards are essential to help operators maximize the potential of Wi-Fi, as the technology becomes an even more essential part of consumers’ mobile broadband experience,” says Paul Lambert, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. “The industry must continue working closely together to ensure that common standards offer a seamless, cellular-like Wi-Fi experience to end users wherever they are, and also to lay a solid foundation on which operators can compete,” says Lambert. “The WBA is meeting this challenge by working to define the next generation of Wi-Fi standards with the NGH initiative, helping create an opportunity to take Wi-Fi to a new phase of market development.”

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