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How Big is the Surge in Public Wi-Fi?

By Dennis Jones

Surge of Public Wi-Fi

You’ve probably been walking down the street, only to stop and realize that you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Or, by now, it’s more likely that you don’t even notice when you’re connected on the go; you just expect to be. Why is that? How have we  come to expect Wi-Fi connectivity outside of the house, especially in urban areas, where we once relied exclusively on cellular data?

The short answer is the surge in public hotspots. Public Wi-Fi has simply exploded. According to the WBA (Wireless Broadband Alliance,) public Wi-Fi access points around the world increased from 1.3 million in 2011 to 5.8 million in 2015. Similarly, Cisco is projecting a sevenfold increase in the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, which are estimated to grow to 432 million by 2020.

What changed? Why are open Wi-Fi hotspots blanketing public areas? Well, companies like Comcast, for instance, have prioritized public Wi-Fi deployments. It’s been a couple years since Comcast upgraded their residential Wi-Fi routers so that they would double as public hotspots, broadcasting Wi-Fi signals that reach outside of private residencies.

Another factor contributing to this growth has been an increase in the number of municipal Wi-Fi projects. City governments in San Jose, Paris, London and New York (to name just a few) have sought to extend free Wi-Fi services to their citizens.

Earlier this year, for instance, New York launched its LinkNYC initiative, which replaced payphones with 7,500 new kiosks, located across the five boroughs. Users can go to those kiosks to get free Wi-Fi access, at speeds up to 100 times faster than LTE connections.

Moreover, in just a brief period, LinkNYC has been a huge success. As Inverse reports, users have already logged 6.5 million sessions. At these rates, LinkNYC’s ambition to make Wi-Fi a public utility is feasible, especially as users browse  public Wi-Fi to avoid tapping into their data plans. This is surely the template for public Wi-Fi deployments in the future.