Clunky log-in processes and poor network controls are hampering the uptake of public Wi-Fi hotspots by smartphone users, according to research commissioned by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).
Research company Informa said subscribers who qualified for free hotspot access as part of their packages were rarely taking advantage of the option, with as few as one in five hopping onto hotspots while in range because authentication was a pain.
“In theory, if you think about the market conditions, with a decent density of hotspots available and strong adoption of smartphones, you should see more and more people connecting to public Wi-Fi, but when we've spoken to the operators what they have found is that uptake has been slow,” Thomas Wehmeier, principal analyst at Informa and author of the report, told PC Pro.
“We've been speaking to O2, which said it had been trying to overcome network congestion, and since they offered free Wi-Fi access in partnership with BT and The Cloud they found that only 20% of the people that could access Wi-Fi actually made use of it - that's symptomatic of a wider problem.”
The warning comes as the WBA said global Wi-Fi hotspot numbers were set to grow from 1.3 million in 2011 to 5.8 million by 2015.
To encourage wider use, operators needed to simplify the way handsets logged onto networks, while still giving them control of which networks to connect to, Wehmeier said.
“Where operators have addressed the challenge of public authentication in hotspots, such as AT&T in the US, when they tweaked the way devices work, uptake was explosive,” he said.
The research cited the way AT&T provisioned a system where users log-in once to a network hotspot and then every time their handset was within range of a hotspot it could connect automatically. O2 told us it was in the process of rolling out a similar system to encourage easier log-ins for UK customers.
The other part of the challenge that needs to be addressed, Wehmeier said, was the way handset operating systems presented hotspot availability information to consumers, which can be irritating with pop-up alerts for irrelevant networks.
“It can be a real source of frustration for smartphone users when their devices are constantly popping up potential hotspots to access and we're starting to see the device manufacturers and OS owners work overtime to potentially solve these issue,” Mehmeier said.
“That might just mean there is a more intelligent connection manager on the device to allow the user to set rules to simplify the process, but they also need to be able to choose between two networks – say a public network near the office and the in-house, private connection.”
Mobile phone companies are increasingly trying to offload mobile traffic from network to Wi-Fi connections to avoid congestion. More than half of all operators surveyed said Wi-Fi hotspots were either very important or crucial to their customers’ experience.
This article originally appeared at pcpro.co.uk