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1 in 3 Home Broadband Routers to Double as Public WiFi Hotspots by 2017

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016 (10:15 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,391)
wifi_internet_security

A new report from Juniper Research has predicted that “at least” 1 in 3 home broadband routers will be used as Public WiFi hotspots by 2017 (BT Broadband subscribers already have this feature on their HomeHub), with ISPs increasingly using their subscribers as vessels to spread WiFi connectivity.

The total installed base of such dual-use routers is expected to reach 366 million globally by the end of 2020, which the report claims will be supported by major broadband ISPs such as BT, UPC and Virgin Media in Europe and several of the biggest cable TV operators in the US (e.g. Comcast and Cablevision).

The Home Hotspot model is often seen as a low-cost way of rapidly expanding domestic WiFi coverage and it could also be used to help off-load data traffic from Mobile Network Operators (MNO), which is handy because it’s often cheaper to send data down a fixed line than via mobile.

The service will be nothing new to people in the United Kingdom because BT has been implementing related FON technology into their HomeHub routers for years, which allows other BT customers to get online via your WiFi signal (provided they’re within range and assuming you’re a BT Broadband subscriber). This is why BT can claim to operate over 5 million free hotspots in the UK.

In reality the service isn’t often of much use because home WiFi signals rarely extend very far outside the walls of your property (often works better in dense urban areas) and related hotspots can be very slow. Never the less Virgin Media have recently been attempting to launch a similar Public WiFi Sharing service, although their approach is more complicated and has hit a few problems (here).

Gareth Owen, Juniper’s Research Author, said:

While most operators now allow consumers to opt-out, if they so wish, most consumers simply have no idea that their routers are being used in this way. Given the current concerns around privacy and data security, the realisation that home routers can be accessed by complete strangers is unlikely to be viewed in a positive light.”

The research noted that broadband ISPs were not necessarily making it clear to consumers that their home routers were in effect supporting public WiFi initiatives and indeed we’ve met plenty of BT Broadband customers that were similarly unaware. The study also noted that when consumers become aware of this dual-use, there was the “real possibility of a backlash“.

Despite all that BT has been successfully able to run their FON service for many years and existing subscribers can opt-out here, if they so wish. Now it looks like more ISPs will soon be joining them.

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11 Responses
  1. Bob2002

    >In reality the service isn’t often of much use because home WiFi signals rarely extend very far outside the walls of your property …

    I was a bit dubious about BT’s hotspot feature but if you live in a town there is a fairly reasonable chance your residence is surrounded by WiFi and at least one of the routers will be a BT connection – good for use in an emergency if your line goes down.

    • ShadyCreek

      I totally agree. A couple of years ago I had some router problems that left me without service over the weekend. I discovered at that point that my (detached) neighbour had BT also. I got a useable signal and speed which was more than enough for email, general browsing and what have you. No it wasn’t enough for Netflix but I can live without that for a few days. Made an inconvenient IT failure a lot less hassle.

    • Steve Jones

      My experience too. You can often get a signal (going upstairs helps) and it’s often fast enough for emergency use.

  2. John

    So how on earth does this work for abuse, I.E illegal films, or worse? at this point it’s going to be near impossible to prosecute anyone beyond a reasonable doubt.

    • Steve Jones

      In the case of the FON network (as used by BT Retail), it requires an account which you have to log onto. Of course logon details can “leak”, but the same is true of WiFi passwords. It does, at least, provide a starting point for any investigations.

    • JamesM

      I’ve tested my FON hotspot it’s 512kbps at best so nothing to worry about.

      I now have decent 4G so I have opted out of it anyway as I will lose wifi access when I am out and about but I don’t need it now.

  3. Mike C

    When I was asked about this from my ISP to opt in, I had visions of people leaning against my garden wall to check their emails, social media and what have you. I can’t see how anyone would benefit where I live?

  4. Mike C

    Yeah if my broadband went down I would use mobile data, no problem, however if that was an issue, I can’t see how I’d benefit from others, can’t see the signal being strong enough and my neighbour uses TT.

    This is assuming I could jump on to any wifi connection in the area?

  5. rubbishinternet

    Its taking liberties, something that bt seems to do literally and metaphorically by charging through the roof, injecting advers or spying for gchq take your pick.

    The idea of FON was popular in about 2004 when wifi started to exist with the advent of adsl/dsl broadband getting popular. today all this exercise seems to do is promote isps by taking away what their subscribers pay for.

    The original FON concept was for customer to share conncetions when wifi was sparce under THEIR TERMS not those of their isp, from about 2008- wifi seems to be everywhere in every coffee house,library and pub there is no need to dole out connections to people as they are readily available.

    But this is not about spreading the limited wifi resources, its about stealing internet from those who pay for it without asking and making a mint off it. Its why i left bt for plusnet.

    • Steve Jones

      What a silly comment. BT customers (for one) can opt out of the ISP’s FON network if they wish, and it’s not as if it makes any significant impact. Also, if people want to use the non ISP FON then they can go down that path.

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