The UK is set for a Wi-Fi boom, with the number of wi-fi internet hotspots trebling treble over the next two years to cope with demand from users of Apple's iPhone.
The Financial Times reports the prediction of Owen Geddes, chief executive of Wi-Fi start-up Freerunner, who estimates that the UK has about 10,000 public wi-fi hotspots at present, but expects this number to increase to 30,000 by 2012.
The use of handheld devices to access the web via Wi-Fi hotspots is growing, says In-Stat. According to its report, in 2009 Wi-Fi hotspots increased by 47 percent, and handheld devices accounted for 35 percent of those connections, compared to 20 percent in 2008. By 2011, they will account for half of the connections, it said.
Freerunner currently operates 1,200 hotspots, but plans to add 400 a month, with the aim of achieving 10,000 within two years.
BT, which has 4,000 public hotspots across the UK, a doubling of traffic in 2009. It expects customers to be using close to 1 billion minutes of wi-fi on its networks in the year to March 2010.
The FT estimates that global wi-fi usage increased by 47 per cent in 2009, with about 245,000 hotspots located around the world, according to In-Stat, the market research company.
The US has more Wi-Fi hotspots than any other country but Sweden and the UK have many more per capita - the US shows up in sixth place for hotspots per million in population. China, however, is rapidly catching up on number of hotspots, but sits in tenth place per capita.
The massive increase in Wi-Fi demand springs from Internet-capable smartphones such as the Apple iPhone.
"The iPhone launch made a big difference. Before that, hotspots were pretty empty. All of a sudden there was an enormous surge in use," Geddes told the FT.
Worldwide mobile phone sales totalled 286.1 million units in the second quarter of 2009, a 6.1 percent decrease from the second quarter of 2008, according to Gartner. However, smartphone sales surpassed 40 million units, a 27 percent increase from the same period last year, representing the fastest-growing segment of the mobile-devices market.
Analysts at In-Stat found that US iPhone exclusive carrier AT&T experienced wi-fi usage increase fivefold last year.
Swindon in Wiltshire will become the first town in the UK to offer a free public wireless network to its residents. According to Swindon Borough Council, the town's 186,000 residents will all be able to connect to the network by April next year.
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