Monday, February 20, 2012

Wi-Fi Nearly Everywhere

The incumbent national operator always comes in for stick, it doesn't matter which country you go to, the poor old national carrier is usually seen as more expensive, slower to roll out new features and therefore less innovative....

Here in the UK, it is no different and poor old BT have been criticised for decades, despite having to provide a universal service across the country, run uneconomic pay-phones, keep different businesses of their network separate and provide the backbone for their competitors while constantly negotiating with the regulator.  (Ignoring that they have been kept out of the mobile market altogether to ensure that they didn't squash the nascent mobile market all those years ago).

They will be happy, I hope, that this blog isn't to knock BT, as I want to praise one thing that they have been rolling out for a few years that may have passed you by, at least until it grew to its current size and they started promoting it on their latest TV adverts ... Their huge installation of Wi-Fi networks that other BT customers can share.

This advert says that that they have 3million Wi-Fi hotspots and these are each delivered by their own customers - though I notice the note below the advert now claims 3.5million.  Whoever thought of this was a genius, at the time they started, Wi-Fi wasn't as ubiquitous as now, but as each of us gather more Wi-Fi enabled devices we all want Wi-Fi access wherever we are and as more location-specific applications are launched, we get more addicted to being always on.  So, congratulations Mr or Ms BT.

So, I thought I'd do a bit of maths...

A typical Wi-Fi radius coverage is claimed to be between 46M (indoors) and 92M (outdoors), so if we assume a radius of 75M, then each area of coverage could be around 1,7671squareM.  that is around one fiftieth of a square km

The UK's area is 243,610 square km - so 12 million hotspots all placed equidience apart would cover the whole country (countries), so if only the 3.5 million spots they have now were spread around, BT customers would have free Wi-Fi access in a quarter of the country.

Of course, its not like this - if you look around in built-up areas you'll often find multiple hotspots, but still its pretty impressive and with the local areas putting up free services (Westminster for example) and free services in restaurants and hotels - the coverage model is constantly growing.

Now, if only the devices would connect without any user intervention, default to Wi-Fi before 3G and 2G and the confusion in my head about the different between BTFON, BT-Openzone and BT-Openzone-H was cleared up, we'd all be able to have Wi-Fi "nearly-always-on".

I have an iPad that is Wi-Fi only and it has been a very rare occurrence that I've wanted access outside a hotspot and thought I wish I'd bought the 3G version - and each day as another bunch of hotspots gets installed, that will get less and less frequent.

Will there come a day when many of us use mobile phones that are Wi-Fi only? Just designed for data services, the user then uses Skype or equivalent for phone/video calls and the need for 2G, 3G and even 4G services goes away altogether? I think so, and I think it is closer than some people may think.

Here's one from Samsung, I wonder how many they sell and the growth that they are seeing -

Galaxy S

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