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Mobile Internet Use Drives Demand for Wi-Fi Hotspots

The increasing adoption of smartphones and media tablets this year has created a huge demand for mobile internet access around the globe. In response, Wi-Fi hotspots deployed by broadband service providers started to gain new momentum in 2013, driven by these increasing data demands and recent Wi-Fi technology advancements.

In particular, savvy Cable TV operators are enthusiastically adopting Wi-Fi technology as an entrance into the wireless internet access market.

ABI Research forecasts that Carrier Wi-Fi access point shipments in 2018 will reach 9.7 million with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for 70 percent of that growth.

In the U.S. market, a new service delivery model was deployed by Cable WiFi: an alliance formed of five of the biggest cable operators in the country, including Bright House Networks, Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, and Time Warner Cable.

Customers of any of the cable MSO alliance members can roam seamlessly in the biggest Wi-Fi network in the U.S. -- currently supported by more than 150,000 hotspots.

"While it is a great marketing strategy allowing Cable operators to retain their customers and enhance the service, Cable WiFi also shows that monetization is a possibility for roaming," commented Ahmed Ali, research analyst at ABI Research.

But deploying Carrier Wi-Fi can be more challenging for mobile network operators, due to the complexities of integrating Wi-Fi with their core wireless networks.

Nevertheless, mobile network operators in developed markets like the U.S., Japan and South Korea -- companies such as AT&T, KDDI, and SK Telecom -- are driving forward with hotspot deployment plans.

Having already built extensive Wi-Fi networks in their markets, they're now also feeling the most pressure to deploy even more hotspots, due to the dramatic increase in mobile internet traffic.

Both Carrier Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi technology in general experienced significant technical developments in 2013. The standardization process sponsored by the Wireless Broadband Alliance is gaining more recognition as it finishes its 2nd phase and enters the 3rd phase.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has also been very active preparing for Release 2 of "Passpoint" and announcing new Wi-Fi certification programs, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED ac and WiGig CERTIFIED.

Both programs focus on the provisioning of high data rates; 1.3 Gbps and 7 Gbps respectively.

"The significant improvements in Wi-Fi capacity and data rates make adopting Wi-Fi solutions, in general, more appealing to network operators. Seamless access to high data rate Wi-Fi is helping to shape user expectations and behavior in the cellular network creating a traffic on-load effect counter to off-load benefits," according to Ali.

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