The State of Wi-Fi Networks

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We recently updated our forecasts for the number of hotspots and homespots in select countries. Operators in these countries comprised of converged operators (fixed and mobile) as well as pure fixed broadband operators (mainly cable providers) reported that they have deployed a combined total of more than 7.5 million directly operated hotspots. The trends towards denser networks, a wider variety of user cases and carrier-grade hotspots will all help drive a sharp increase in public Wi-Fi deployments in the next five years.

Additionally, they have a combined base of 64 million homespots at the end of 2015. That number supports the fact that these home-based gateways with a second SSID left open for public access are easy to roll out. Because they are backhauled by the broadband line of existing customers, they are a quick way to extend a provider’s coverage. This is particularly true for cable providers and telcos in the US and Europe.

The installed base of carrier-grade hotspots will rise at a CAGR of  between 4% and 14% depending on the region to reach almost 10m by 2020. The fastest growth in the installed base is in the emerging markets of Middle East and Africa, but both North America and Europe will outpace the global growth rate during the period, often driven by extensive carrier roll-outs. However, Asia-Pacific will still account for two-thirds of the total world base in 2020, despite the expansion in other regions.

On average, each country  has over 200,000 hotspots (excluding homespots) deployed under its direct control and one million available to its subscribers via roaming or wholesale deals but those numbers are only average and are skewed by a few larger telcos. As expected, homespot ownership is concentrated among a few large deployers like British Telecom or China Mobile. hotspots

Source: Maravedis LLC

In the near term, hotspot deployments will still be mainly driven by the expansion of existing business models –faster access, advertising and location services, venue services and so on. But by rolling out denser networks with higher QoS, and complementing those with community hotspots for coverage, the foundations are being laid to support the emerging business cases outlined above, during the coming five-year period.

The confidence that operators felt about deploying carrier-grade Wi-Fi in their networks is growing compared to last year according to the recent survey Maravedis-Rethink produced for the WBA. Roughly 66% said they felt more confident than they did a year ago compared to 56% in 2014, 52% in 2013, and 43% in 2012.

This consistent growth in confidence indicates that carrier Wi-Fi is being a fully accepted element of the network for all types of service providers. What appears to be boosting confidence year after year is the ongoing development of fully carrier-class capabilities. They may also be further reassured by the huge commercial roll-outs by providers such as Warner Cable.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the percentage of companies which have no plans to support carrier Wi-Fi has fallen to about 19%. Last year, that figure was nearly 26%. This likely reflects how Wi-Fi is becoming important to a broader range of business models. It also demonstrates how the transition to carrier-class capabilities is becoming more urgent for many providers as they look to differentiate their services and user experience.

Finally, of the respondents that do have plans to support carrier Wi-Fi in the future, almost 90% say they are feeling more confident last year. This is a finding that suggests that a new wave of deployments and upgrades is planned to begin in 2016. The next logical step will be to count and forecasts the various flavors of NGH being deployed and the challenges still slowing down adoption.

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