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Global Growth Forecast for Wi-Fi Hotspots

ABI Research forecasts that in 2007, worldwide Wi-Fi hotspots will grow by nearly 25 percent, to 179,500. While almost three-quarters of these sites (72 percent) are still found in North America and Europe, the Asia Pacific region is growing very rapidly.

Growth in China has been much slower than originally thought. Still, the Asia Pacific region will come close to matching the number of North American hotspots by 2012. In fact, I recall that South Korea was an early global market leader in Wi-Fi hotspot deployments, long before the U.S. market developed momentum.

Europe remains the global market leader with over 70,000 hotspots. One major driver of Wi-Fi wireless access is retail establishments. McDonalds is making rapid progress in turning its 4,000 locations into hotspots.

"The growing Wi-Fi hotspot market is fueling a demand for Wi-Fi access points," says ABI Research vice president Stan Schatt. "More than 900,000 access points will be shipped this year specifically for use in hotspots. Not only are hotspot and subscriber numbers growing, but we have observed a dramatic increase in the number of Wi-Fi sessions per subscriber. This means that subscribers are connecting more often to check their e-mail and surf the Internet."

With almost 46,000 hotspots worldwide, the hospitality industry continues to embrace Wi-Fi. ABI Research believes that voice-over-Wi-Fi will become a very attractive choice for many major hotel chains, both for guests and for their staff.

Boingo and Wayport are working with handset manufacturers to ensure that Wi-Fi-enabled phones will function at these two operators' hotspots even though they might not have the web browsers normally required for authentication.

Many hospitality operators are using their Wi-Fi networks for internal communications as well as public hotspots for guests. Many are also using the Vocera communicator devices to talk with employees via Wi-Fi.

According to Schatt, "Carriers will have to adjust their business models to deal with consumers who will trade expensive cell phone minutes for free voice over Wi-Fi calls via hotspots."

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