The number of free Wi-Fi hotspots around the world is growing at pace. In the United States alone, in 2010 there were over 72,000 hotspots, while in China the number today is believed to exceed one million. This is raising the question; will free Wi-Fi hotspots become more popular than mobile internet?
Popularity of Mobile Internet
There are a number of ways to access mobile internet. One, which is becoming outdated, is to use a mobile dongle, which should enable the user to access their internet network wherever they are. If users do not have a dongle, then they will often use their laptop, smartphone, or tablet device to access private Wi-Fi networks owned by their tariff provider. Use of these networks and Wi-Fi hotspots are typically accounted for within regular billing, but may be subject to additional costs.
Mobile internet has remained popular as the big data providers own a large number of hotspots, so there have never been huge availability problems for users. Advancements in technology, such as the development of 4G, can lead to price increases, although as it becomes more widely available we can expect to see these subsequently fall.
The Rise of Free Wi-Fi
Since several companies started providing website connectivity via the cloud during the mid-2000s, free Wi-Fi has become hugely popular. It is now common to be able to use free Wi-Fi in many public locations, including hospitals, hotels, shops, and restaurants. Many public transport systems around the world now also allow access to free Wi-Fi, meaning users can be connected wherever they are.
Is There Still a Need for Mobile Internet?
Anyone who has a mobile internet contract or has the cost built into their mobile device tariff is likely to look at the reach of free Wi-Fi and question whether they ought to continue paying. While this is understandable, they should look far beyond the costs involved.
If one is using the internet for employment reasons and it is a necessity, the public cloud, both in the United States and elsewhere around the world, probably is not a great solution right now. This due to the proximity of Wi-Fi hotspots and the fact that no countries, although China are probably close in urban areas, offers 100% internet coverage. If you only rely on free Wi-Fi, what do you do if it is not available? You can use mobile data in some cases, but this can inflate bills dramatically. It also needs to be considered that if you are somewhere busy, the connection is not going to be great. Anyone who has tried downloading a TV show while staying in a large hotel will know how this feels!
Free Wi-Fi & The Future
Free Wi-Fi is clearly a convenient service, but it is not likely to kill the mobile internet market anytime soon. Reliance on the internet is simply too high for people to take the chance; at least if your mobile internet fails you have some justification and can make a complaint, who can you point to if you are using free Wi-Fi at a hotel or in a restaurant and it fails when you need it most?