Wi-Fi Goes Public

June 28, 2012 - 1 Comment

It seems that everywhere you go these days, the little Wi-Fi icon on your mobile device lights up to show that an access point is nearby. In fact, The Wireless Broadband Alliance predicts that the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots globally will grow more than fourfold, to 5.8 million, by 2015. This increasing availability of public hotspots is creating a new “nomadic” network to rival traditional mobile networks and support new mobile devices and their owners’ lifestyles (see blog posting “A New Type of Mobility”). Consumers now expect to have Wi-Fi access when they are sipping a latte in their favorite coffee shop, watching their team score the winning touchdown at the local stadium, or even when they are waiting in line to pay for their groceries.

To learn more about what consumers are doing with their mobile devices, and how and where they are using them, the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) recently conducted a survey of U.S. mobile users. Following are our top three findings related to the use of public Wi-Fi:

1.     One-third of mobile users use a public hotspot at least weekly.

Mobile users are definitely accessing Wi-Fi outside the home and workplace. As the chart below shows, one-third of consumers take advantage of a public hotspot at least weekly, with 12 percent doing so more than once per week. The top locations for these more active users are public outdoors (e.g., parks, streets), coffee shops/restaurants, and retail locations. When respondents were asked where they desired additional Wi-Fi access, the top locations were parks and restaurants/cafés, followed by hospitals, grocery stores, subways, and retail stores/shopping malls.

Public Hotspot Usage

 2.     Consumers expect free Wi-Fi.

The rapidly evolving public Wi-Fi business has significantly changed consumers’ expectations. Remarkably, very few users are actually paying for public Wi-Fi. Three-quarters of regular Wi-Fi users enjoy free access to public hotspots and 19 percent as part of a broadband subscription (8 percent), mobile plan (7 percent), or loyalty program (4 percent). Business-expense-account-friendly venues such as hotels, airports, and trains are the most popular locations used by the less than 1 percent of regular users who pay for public Wi-Fi access.

3.     People aren’t sure if free public Wi-Fi is part of their home broadband or mobile subscription.

Paradoxically, although few U.S. mobile operators include public Wi-Fi access as part of their data plan (while most home broadband providers do as part of customers’ subscriptions), most people associate free Wi-Fi with their mobile provider rather than their broadband company. People clearly seem to consider Wi-Fi a wireless technology more aligned to mobile than an extension of wired home broadband networks. One thing is for certain: this perception can be overturned with aggressive marketing and messaging to broadband subscribers. AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast all bundle some form of free Wi-Fi with their home broadband service, yet only one-third of their subscribers were aware of this. This contrasts sharply with Cablevision, 60 percent of whose broadband subscribers knew that Wi-Fi access was part of their subscription (most likely a result of Cablevision’s aggressive marketing).

Cisco IBSG conducted its online survey of 1,079 U.S mobile users in March 2012. The study was also undertaken in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Full results of the survey can be downloaded here.

Future articles will highlight additional findings from the study and our predictions for key changes in the mobile industry over the next two years. 

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  1. wifi public hope that it come as you have predicted not in a distant future