France currently leads the world in terms of number of public wifi hotspots with 13 million (commercial and community hotspots) according to a far-reaching study by global wi-fi provider iPass. The US comes in second in terms of number of hotspots at 9.8 million and the UK third at 5.6 million. Europe overall has the world’s largest percentage of hotspots with 26 million out of a global total of 47.7 million. While Europe wasn’t the fastest growing region in 2013, it still posted 55% growth in terms of its number of hotspots.
This situation is set to change rapidly however. Asia, which has posted modest growth up until now in comparison with other regions, will overtake Europe and lead all regions in terms of number of hotspots, hitting 114.7 million by 2018. Europe will reach 109 million and North America 85 million. Africa will, unfortunately, will not develop as quickly on this measure with iPass predicting only 1 hotspot for every 408 people by 2018 (vs 1 for every 4 people in the States). This growth will bring the number of total hotspots to 340 million by 2018, which is effectively 1 hotspot for ever 20 people (vs 1 for every 150 people today) on a global scale. On a country level, the US will take the top spot with 75.9 million hotspots, China with 71.4 million and France, still in the top three, with 23.4 million.
According to the BBC, the research implies that most of the growth will be driven by hotspots in homes (or ‘homespots’). As a part of a growing trend to extend wifi to the broader community, telecos are increasingly transforming home wifi routers into public access points.
While telcommunications is generally controlled in most markets by a few players, the telcos have much less dominance in the rapidly growing hotspot market where 50% of all commercial hotspots are controlled by non-telco players. Everyone from cafes to small retailers to hotels are important players in this rapidly growing market. However, as wifi extends to new usage environments such as airplanes or trains, the big tech companies will likely take increasing note of the potential of this rapidly growing market. Already Google has shown interest in the wifi space, having established a deal with Starbucks to offer free wi-fi to its 7,000 US-based outlets and recently filed a request with the US FCC to test high-speed wireless spectrum at several locations in California. Facebook has also in the last couple years tested the concept of free wifi hotspots for check-ins at local businesses in the US.