Public Wi-Fi hotspots to grow to 432M globally by 2020, suggesting possible threat to carriers

For years, the growth of wireless carriers has been so rapid that cellular data providers have been worried about hitting the limit on spectrum availability, leading them to implement now-regular limits on monthly data consumption. But a surge in Wi-Fi hotspots that Cisco projects in its latest Visual Networking Index Forecast could have a more pronounced impact as internet traffic gets offloaded back onto Wi-Fi networks.

By 2020, the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots is projected to grow a whopping seven times from its 2015 figure, to 432 million up from 64 million, according to the forecast, which Cisco released Tuesday morning.

That figure includes public home spots, but home spots alone, both public and private, are projected to keep the pace, growing from 57 million in 2015 to 423 million by 2020, according to the report.

Obviously, the rapid growth of available hotspots will coincide with a substantial increase in the number of users and Internet of Things devices connected to those networks.

"More than 1 billion new Internet users will join the global internet community, growing from three billion in 2015 to 4.1 billion by 2020. The global digitization transformation, based on the adoption of personal devices and deployment of machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will have an even greater impact on traffic growth," Cisco said in a press release announcing the report.

That being the case, the Cisco report also details the growth in global IP traffic and adoption of the IPv6 protocol enabling that growth. The internet will gain over 1 billion new members by 2020, leading global IP traffic to more than double, from 72.5 exabytes per month in 2015 to 194.4 by 2020, according to the report.

That rapid growth is driving the adoption of the IPv6 protocol. Between the growing number of internet users and the expansion of the IoT industry, the number of "things" connected to the internet is set to quickly outnumber the number of IP addresses available with the IPv4 protocol.

IPv4 "only" had 4.3 billion possible IP addresses, but given that Gartner estimated that 26 billion IoT devices will be connected by 2020, the protocol put an existential restriction on the industry. IPv6, however, has 340 undecillion possible addresses (that's 340 trillion trillion trillion), so that should give the internet a little bit of growing room.

The question now is whether the IPv6 protocol can be adopted fast enough to enable the growth in usage, and the Cisco report offers some encouraging news in that regard: 48.2 percent of all fixed and mobile devices will be IPv6 capable by 2020 – up from 23.3 percent in 2015 – and 34 percent of total internet traffic will be IPv6-driven by 2020.

For more:
-  see this press release

Related articles:
BandwidthX 'ahead of plan' on sales of excess Wi-Fi capacity
Comcast takes Wi-Fi mobile: Cable operator to outfit trucks with portable hotspots, microwave backhaul
'New Charter' to offer 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots, and maybe an MVNO service

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