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How will 4G growth affect public Wi-Fi usage?

Wednesday, October 30th 2013 by Cable.co.uk
Increasing 4G coverage could affect the popularity of public Wi-Fi
The popularity of public Wi-Fi could diminish as 4G coverage increases.

Public Wi-Fi networks are more popular than ever. With both the number of hotspots and the volume of data consumed increasing, it seems the UK as a nation has embraced public Wi-Fi and is in no hurry to stop taking advantage of the service. However, as 4G superfast mobile broadband coverage expands across the country, will we see an end to this growth?

Where can you access public Wi-Fi, and just how popular is it?

According to an Ofcom report published this month, the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots doubled over the 12 months to June, reaching 34,000. The volume of data being sent by consumers connecting wireless-enabled devices to these hotspots rose at an even faster rate, almost trebling to just under two million gigabytes per month over the study period.

London is home to at least 15 per cent of all the UK's Wi-Fi hotspots, the regulator revealed, while just seven per cent of the public hotspots operated by the country's largest fixed-line and mobile providers are situated in rural communities. 

How will 4G growth affect public Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi is undeniably popular at present, with many retailers choosing to roll out their own networks in a bid to attract customers. 

But the service could see usage drop as 4G networks continue to increase in size. EE already offers 4G in more than 130 towns and cities, while rival operators O2 and Vodafone launched their own services in August. 3 Mobile, meanwhile, is set to join the market before Christmas.

If superfast speeds are being delivered via mobile networks, there'll be less need to connect your smartphone or tablet to a Wi-Fi connection.

How public Wi-Fi can stay relevant

While 4G coverage is set for continued growth over the coming years (EE aims to reach 98 per cent of the population in 2014), there's still a place for public Wi-Fi. 

For instance, consumers will still be keen to use Wi-Fi - where available - to avoid eating up the data allowance on their mobile contract. 

Equally, in busy areas such as city centres, 4G networks could become congested. This could in turn lead to a drop in speeds as scores of people attempt to connect simultaneously; public Wi-Fi could act as a means of alleviating this congestion by offering another way to get online.

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