Cisco Predicts 432 Million Public Hotspots By 2020

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Public Wi-Fi hotspots allow any user to hop on a network and perform data-heavy tasks, such as browsing social media or streaming video, without using their mobile data plan. These hotspots can also power a traditional computer without a user having to tether the device onto their smartphone, which is not even an option on some plans. As less and less people make regular use of their phones to actually make and receive calls these days, some carriers are beginning to offer data-only plans. If a user tends to make excessive use of data and can take care of their normal calling tasks with VOIP-based solutions, this can save a user a good amount of money, to the point of tempting users of more traditional plans. Incredibly rapid growth of public Wi-Fi hotspots, however, may cut into the sales figures of such plans in the near future.

According to an industry analysis report released by Cisco, the trend toward global connectivity, smart cities and the Internet of Things movement is driving the growth of public hotspots in a big way. While the very first country to offer free public Wi-Fi was a fairly hidden away affair with a relatively small population, known as Niue, larger and more developed markets are showing growth trends that lend themselves to the idea of these bigger and more mature markets following suit, which could put a damper on carriers' data-only plans and even begin to entice some more traditional users to drop their plans, just as the advent of cheap data-only plans is causing traditional full plan users to begin switching.

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Public hotspots, of course, do have their disadvantages; traffic over these networks is much more sensitive to data theft, breaches and even hacks, since a would-be hacker would be sharing a short-range Wi-Fi network with a small amount of users.  Such hotspots are also often more controlled and strictly monitored than larger networks; personal activities that wouldn't warrant a second look at home could draw undue attention for a user on a public network. These smaller networks can also become congested a bit more easily. Nonetheless, the expansion and growth of such networks could foster cable-cutting and migration away from paid networks. Added to the fact that the same report predicts that 2020's internet traffic will be dominated by devices besides traditional PCs, with about 30 percent of that being smartphones, it could mean that wireless carriers in some regions with higher adoption and wider coverage of public hotspots might have a reason to worry.