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Wi-Fi hotspots to skyrocket over next five years

And you reckon 2.4GHz is crowded now...

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Right now there are 1.3 million public Wi-Fi spots around the world, but Informa reckons that's going to jump to 5.8 million by 2015 with tablets and smartphones driving the deployments.

Those figures don't include the 4.5 million "community" hotspots – privately owned but publically shared – the 5.8 million hotspots up and running in 2015 will be available to anyone who wants to pay, but most will be run by mobile network operators who want to offload as much of their data traffic as possible.

Informa, which compiled the data for the Wireless Broadband Alliance, spoke to 259 network operators around the world, and discovered that tablet computers already account for a tenth of hotspot connections, while smartphones account for 36 per cent and laptops less than half (6 per cent are unaccounted for).

Network operators are very happy to offload traffic onto Wi-Fi, so China Mobile is planning to deploy more than a million hotspots in the next few years, and Japan's KDDI has announced plans for another 100,000 within the next six months. In the UK things get a bit weird thanks to our regulatory environment, but we too are heading in that direction.

The UK's mobile operators have a voluntary agreement to block access to adult content over the mobile internet (at 2.1GHz), so you have to call up the operator and present a valid credit card before it will let you browse porn sites. But jump 300MHz up into the Wi-Fi band (2.4GHz) and you can get all the porn you want, from the same operator on the same device – which is clearly nonsense.

The solution is for all ISPs in the UK to block adult content by default, and the mobile operators are obviously a testing ground for that approach (for the sake of the children, obviously). But until the government can cajole the ISPs to play along we have this weird clash of regulatory environments.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance is pushing its single-sign-on standard to make it easier for devices to authenticate themselves, so users can roam onto Wi-Fi connections without having to ask, though if they're switching regulatory environments that might come as a shock.

Getting seamless roaming means adding the capability to handsets and access-point hardware, which is what the Alliance hopes will be promoted by this report. The full report, complete with case studies, is available for download (PDF), but there's also an easily digestible graphical version (also PDF, but only one page with big writing) complete with supporting video for those who haven't the time to read words. ®

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