iPass report: Public hotspots to grow to 340M worldwide by 2018

Here's your pop quiz for the day: Which country has the most hotspots?

If you guessed France, you'd be right, according to new research released by iPass, which bills itself as the world's largest Wi-Fi network. France is the "country of Wi-Fi," with the most hotspots, followed by the United States and the UK. By 2018, however, that's going to change, and the U.S. will hold the top spot, followed by China and France.

For now, though, what's up with France? iPass President and CEO Evan Kaplan says it has a lot to do with service provider Orange France and disruptive telecom players like Free that have been "super aggressive" at deploying Wi-Fi.

Worldwide, iPass' data, which comes from analysts at Maravedis Rethink, shows there will be 47.7 million public Wi-Fi hotspots deployed by the end of 2014, and over the next four years, global hotspot numbers will grow to more than 340 million--that's nearly one hotspot for every 20 people on Earth by 2018. That compares to one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people today.

iPass executives believe the data is the broadest and most in-depth look into the global hotspot market and they're sharing a map showing the growth. It's important to note that the figures include only publicly available hotspots, not private home or work networks.

The company commissioned the research to better understand the total hotspot ecosystem around Wi-Fi because it is different from mobile, said June Bower, chief marketing officer at iPass. "Our goal is to  make it really easy to access these hotspots and drive more traffic," she said.

One of the biggest changes taking place involves homes, she said. Operators that offer Wi-Fi to the home are partitioning off part of the hotspot to be used publicly by their customers, so a Comcast customer who has Wi-Fi in his or her home can agree to make the hotspot available to others and then in turn access hotspots in other customers' homes.

Executives at iPass believe this is a good trend because it enables and encourages more Wi-Fi usage. In the UK, one in five homes on average provide public Wi-Fi today, but by 2018, that number will be about half of all homes in the UK providing public Wi-Fi.

Community hotspots probably represent the biggest area of growth, but more moving objects--like planes and trains--are getting equipped with Wi-Fi. Whereas about 2,795 planes in North America are equipped with Wi-Fi in 2014, that number is expected grow to more than 10,900 North American planes equipped with Wi-Fi by 2018.

The research also shows that 50 percent of all commercial hotspots are controlled by brands whose core business isn't telecommunications. Because the Wi-Fi industry isn't highly regulated, it's relatively easy for them to deploy.

Brands like Zenga, an Italian men's clothing line, are targeting high-end business travelers and offering free Wi-Fi to customers who connect vi iPass. Another French make-up company used iPass to offer free Wi-Fi to its top salespeople at their sales meeting, Bower said.

iPass also is hopeful that more big brands--big as in Google, Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft big--will step in as disruptors and use creative monetization models, similar to what Google did when it first entered the online search business, enabling hotspot owners to make money the same way website owners do.

Already, companies like HP are shipping select tablets and PCs with the ability to use iPass' Wi-Fi service out of the box. Those customers have immediate access to close to 4 million hotspots.

"The way we think about it is that brands are part of the discussion," Kaplan said, with business owners and retailers having the ability to build and offer Wi-Fi to their customers directly, rather than through a traditional telco. "What's different is they get to decide how they monetize that, not the carrier, not the telecom [provider], and they monetize it in their best interest," whether it be with advertising, leveraging end-user data or something else.

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