The number of Wi-Fi public hotspots is set to rapidly rise around the world over the next few years, with Africa grabbing a significant portion of that increase, according to market research from Ruckus Wireless.
Global public Wi-Fi hotspots are set to increase from 1.3 million in 2011, to 5.8 million by 2015, according to Ruckus, makers of the Smart Wi-Fi technology.
"Mobile data growth is a key factor here, where it is estimated that 1.9 billion Wi-Fi devices will hit the networks next year and global mobile data traffic is expected to reach 16.84 million terabytes by 2014," says Ruckus Wireless' Sales Director for sub-Saharan Africa Michael Fletcher. "And of course, if you look at the local and African initiatives such as free Wi-Fi in Rwanda's Kigali and the City of Tshwane -- not to mention Google's Project Link to bring faster connectivity to Africa -- 2014 is set to be a watershed year for Wi-Fi."
In Africa, the Ruckus report predicts, there is likely to be "a lot more free Wi-Fi across the regions -- and being used in different ways." The company cautioned, however, that if users are not able connect on free Wi-Fi for whatever reason, it can cause more damage to potential growth than not offering it at all.
Wi-Fi in shopping malls will become more common and the hospitality sector is likely to see the rise of premium services where basic Wi-Fi is free and customers pay extra for any additional features, the survey said. For the security of guests who could be exposed to all sorts of danger or have their privacy infringed upon or financial records intercepted while accessing the Internet outside a hotel environment, most hotels in now offer free Wi-Fi services inside their premises, according to the survey.
Contributing to the rise in public hotspots are the availability of more Wi-Fi-related mobile devices such as routers and smartphones, and government-backed initiatives in some African countries to ensure that the Internet is available in remote areas, the survey said. In addition, many users are turning to Wi-Fi hotspots for its cost efficiency, as service providers charge higher rates for Internet access.
"2014 will hail the first true 3G offload to Wi-Fi in Africa -- with many countries including the likes of South Africa and Kenya looking at this as a viable option. However, it wouldn't be surprising if a smaller carrier takes the lead here ahead of the big industry players," the statement added.
Cloud-based products for management and services will continue to facilitate Wi-Fi adoption for small and medium-size businesses, while Wi-Fi-based location analytics will help organizations increase business intelligence, define security policy, and improve the customer experience. In addition, social media use for log-in credentials for Wi-Fi will be pervasive among organizations providing guest access while service providers will allow automatic and secure connectivity to Wi-Fi networks with tens of thousands of roaming partners, courtesy of large-scale Hotspot 2.0 roaming consortiums. Hotspot 2.0 is designed to let mobile devices automatically join a subscriber service whenever a user enters a Hotspot 2.0 area.
"No matter how much network capacity is put in place through a combination of cellular and Wi-Fi, it will never be enough. More spectrum and spectrum sharing ideas are required, along with ever greater network densification," Fletcher added. "However, what is clear is that Wi-Fi certainly has its place and 2014 will be the year Wi-Fi takes its rightful position in the industry."