Smartphones overtake laptops at Wi-Fi hotspots

November 8, 2012

Smartphones overtake laptops at Wi-Fi hotspotsA survey of Wi-Fi hotspot operators finds that more smartphones use their connections than laptops. It appears the stat is driven by people using their phones for quick bursts of data such as checking e-mails.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance estimates that 40 percent of connections to Wi-Fi hotspots are made by a smartphone, ahead of laptops on 39 percent and tablets on 17 percent.

Many reports of the findings have referred to smartphones being “data hogs” at hotspots. That’s potentially misleading as the survey only addresses connections, not how much data a person actually uses while connected.

One of the main explanations for the stats is people increasingly using a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect a smartphone briefly, often in circumstances where they wouldn’t bother with the hassle of pulling out a laptop and starting it up.

In theory, most smartphone owners shouldn’t have much need to switch to Wi-Fi when they can just get online via 3G, particularly in cases where they aren’t downloading large files or streaming. The results may suggest many users are intentionally looking to save on battery or data plan use and are prepared to hook up to Wi-Fi hotspots even for the sake of a comparatively small saving.

The survey also found almost one in five hotspot operators plans to use Next Generation Hotspot technology by the end of next year. That’s a system that lets users connect without the need for a password, but then encrypts their connection in a similar way to if they were using a data network. The Wireless Broadband Alliance is pushing this as a way to reduce the load on mobile broadband networks such as 3G and 4G systems.

The Register points out several challenges to such a system, including customers being unable to access payment systems that charge a purchase to their cellphone bill, along with the inconsistency of rules about accessing adult content on mobile devices.

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