Carrier WiFi

Hotspot Redux

7:50 AM -- Lost in all the discussion and arguments about metro WiFi has been the deployment and usage of wireless hotspots. Remember those? Five years ago, working with Datacomm Research Co. , I published the first comprehensive market report on wireless hotspots. While we were enthusiastic about the potential of the technology, particularly in its ability to deliver broadband using relatively low-cost infrastructure, we were concerned about the ability to make hotspots a viable business unless combined with other services such as cellular.

Since then, although wireless hotspots have not taken over the mobile broadband space, the number of hotspots around the world has grown at a strong pace. According to JiWire Inc. statistics for May, there are now 114,150 hotspots in 126 countries. The number is more than double that of a year ago, which makes for impressive growth. The U.S., at 38,588, has the largest number, more than twice the next country, which is the U.K. at 16,898. Pubs, cafes, and restaurants have the lion’s share of deployment with 40 percent among them, followed by hotels at 26 percent of locations, then stores at 13 percent. And despite all predictions of free service dominating this segment, according to the stats, less than 10 percent of hotspots today are free.

Even though the market is highly fragmented, and there are no official standards for roaming, the key players in this space have done a great job of providing single-account access to multiple locations. For example, iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS) boasts access to 50,000 hotspots, Boingo Wireless Inc. to 30,000, and T-Mobile US Inc. has 6,914 of its own hotspots, with access to a total of 22,799 hotspots through roaming arrangements.

We’re still a long way from having public WiFi everywhere. It would take about a million hotspots to cover every logical location in the U.S. if you count all hotels, shopping areas, airports, restaurants, and so forth. Nevertheless, in the last five years we’ve come a long way.

— Peter Rysavy is President of Rysavy Research . Special to Unstrung

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