Everywhere from shopping centres and parklands to airports and train stations, public Wi-Fi hotspots are increasing in number across the Asia-Pacific region.
Often free to use, the hotspots provide high-speed internet access to people going about their professional and personal lives. They’re changing the way many think about connectivity.
In Singapore, for example, the Infocomm Development Authority has established Wireless@SG using infrastructure provided by a number of telecommunications carriers. The service covers large areas of the city and was recently extended to include many MRT stations.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, the government-provided GovWiFi service is available in many public places. Started in 2008, the project is part of a long-term strategy to turn Hong Kong into a wireless city.
In Australia, national telecommunications carrier Telstra recently announced plans to roll out 500,000 hotspots around the country by mid-2015. Many will be located in or near existing public payphones.
For all users, the benefit of free public Wi-Fi is clear. For workers, it gives the ability to remain connected to office applications and data. For consumers, it provides a simple way to check email or update social media services without having to worry about running up a high mobile data bill.
For telecommunications carriers, migrating data traffic onto Wi-Fi hotspots (and therefore fixed lines) takes some of the pressure off increasingly congested cellular mobile networks.
For governments and local authorities, such Wi-Fi services also provide the opportunity to gather valuable data about users and their habits. Crowd numbers and flows can be monitored, for example, to help with planning for future public facilities.
For businesses, the networks offer the potential for targeted advertising. Users could opt in to receiving offers from retailers when they are visiting a certain area. By matching location with other factors such as the time of day or weather conditions, personalised messages could be delivered that lead to more purchases.
Such increasing usage of public Wi-Fi generates large volumes of data. Whether it comes from monitoring crowd numbers in a public square or tracking the shopping habits of regular customers, this data can provide valuable information to everyone from retailers and authorities to carriers.
Retaining data over time could allow longer term trends to be analysed. How do new buildings change the flow of pedestrians through a city centre? What are the peak times of day for visitors to a public facility? How often does someone visit a favourite store?
As the volume of data increases, things will become even more interesting. Retaining it in secure and resilient data centres will allow analysis and insight into behaviours and habits that previously would have gone unnoticed.
Such secure retention may also overcome any issues around privacy that might be raised. Stored data would only be accessible to authorised parties who adhere to approved processes.
In just a few short years, public Wi-Fi has evolved from being little more than a handy novelty into something that delivers real value to consumers, businesses and government. The wireless future has only just begun.