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The number of PWLAN 'hotspots' in the world is set to quadruple within the next three years.

Asia Pacific is currently the leading region in terms of PWLAN locations, but North America and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) are ready to catch up and surpass it in terms of overall numbers. Factors such as lowering prices, greater penetration of WLAN-enabled laptops and perhaps most importantly serious investment from leading telecommunications operators should serve to stimulate demand.

PWLAN locations have been and continue to be secured at a rapid pace by service providers, large and small, anxious to acquire what they consider to be premium locations for laptop-carrying business people and consumers. By year-end 2003, an estimated 31,580 will be in operation globally. This figure is set to grow strongly, approaching 135,000 by year-end 2006.

The number of people using 'hotspots'/PWLAN services is ready to increase from just 1.53 million to 23.31 million globally between 2002 and 2006. The Asia Pacific region currently leads the way in terms of hotspot users. Indeed by year-end 2003 it is estimated that South Korea will have approaching 1 million users.

In Western Europe the roll-out of PWLAN services was initially impacted by regulatory restrictions. However, over the course of 2002, restrictions on the use of the 2.4GHz spectrum band to provide public services were largely removed by several national governments.

Up to now Scandinavia has been the major source of growth in the European market, with Sweden in particular rolling out the largest number of hotspots. In the coming months, however, the larger European countries such as the UK and Germany should surpass the Nordic markets in terms of overall PWLAN location numbers, especially given significant investment from incumbent European operators such as British Telecom and Swisscom.

The investment that is currently being made in PWLANs in North America suggests that this region will grow to be market leader over the course of 2004. A number of operators and consortia, such as T-Mobile, Toshiba, Boingo and Cometa Networks, have particularly ambitious roll-out plans. Although not all of these plans are likely to be achieved in the envisaged timescales, they signify the clear trend towards a marked increase in PWLAN location numbers in North America.

Recommended research: Datamonitor, "Public wireless LANs: hotspots - finally heating up" (DMTC0921)

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