Report predicts surge in WiFi use

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Worldwide usage of wireless fidelity (WiFi) networks is expected to grow from 42 million users in 2003 to 609 million users by 2007, according to a new report by Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based research firm.

WiFi, a subset of wireless technology, is a term that is used to describe an 802.11 network. Specifications for 802.11 were developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for wireless LAN technology.

The U.S. currently leads the world in WiFi usage, with its higher PC penetration rate and greater use of e-mail, the report found.

In 2003, 47% of all WiFi users were in the U.S. Other regions that have high WiFi usage are Western Europe (35%) and Asia-Pacific (17%). Western Europe is expected to lead worldwide WiFi usage by 2007 as corporate e-mail increases in that region.

The report found that WiFi usage currently is very PC-centric, driven by individuals with laptops and handheld devices that are used for e-mail and Internet access. "It has been offered as a free amenity," said Genelle Hung, market analyst at Radicati.

Checking e-mail is the most popular use of WiFi (27%), followed by surfing the Internet for business or personal reasons (21%). Other popular uses include preparing documents or presentations (19%), scheduling (15%) and logging onto corporate intranets (12%).

One of the key growth areas for WiFi is "hotspots," or areas outside the home or office that allow users to connect to the Internet or office over 802.11 networks, Radicati found.

These hotspots, found in airports, train stations, cafes and shopping malls, will grow from 71,500 this year to more than 477,000 worldwide in 2007, Radicati projected.

The firm said the hospitality industry can capitalize on the growing demand for WiFi connections by offering wireless access in convention centers, hotel lobbies and restaurants. Radicati said the capital investment to provide WiFi connections has been an obstacle in the hospitality industry, but the potential return on investment is strong.

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