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There was a time that WiFi was the scrappy junior cousin of cellular mobile data services. Now most mobile carriers have begun to reassess WiFi as an effective complementary wireless infrastructure for offloading flood-level amounts of data traffic from smartphones, tablets and dongles from their cellular networks.

4G LTE has helped the carriers to enhance overall capacity but it is also stimulating more intensive use of mobile data video streaming services. The snag is, many of the WiFi public access gateways also need to ready for action and up to the job.

This overloading is a common complaint in South Korea, and it is likely to be replicated in a number of developed markets, as wireless data traffic continues to grow exponentially. 802.11n is starting to make its presence felt in the newer Wi-Fi hotspot deployments, and legacy hotspots are steadily being upgraded to 802.11n. 802.11n does help to boost the number of users the hotspot can handle and data connection (up to 600 Mbps), as the AP supports a higher modulation as well as up to four MIMO antennas. 802.11n can be deployed on the 5 GHz band, but the majority of devices are accessing it on the 2.4 GHz band. As a result, a large number of public Wi-Fi hotspots are struggling to handle the number of users accessing the 2.4 GHz band, which is then exacerbated by the uncontrolled mish-mash of Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz APs that have been installed by residential users, businesses, and carriers in many urban environments. In Seoul, the Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz congestion/interference is often so bad customers are opting to remain on their LTE connections and avoid Wi-Fi.

There are solutions that should help mitigate the increasingly congested and interference-ridden Wi-Fi hotspots. A key one will be 802.11ac, which will push newer smartphones to start using the 5 GHz band. Other initiatives that should enhance the public Wi-Fi experience include Hotspot 2.0 that enables a Wi-Fi hotspot to seamlessly authenticate and automatically join a Wi-Fi subscriber whenever the user enters a Hotspot 2.0 area.

Link to the full ABI Research Insight for clients: