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.