The Wireless Broadband Alliance is saying mobile operators are looking to public Wi-Fi hotspots to satiate our appetite for mobile data — despite massive investments and promotion of 4G networks. The WBA found that 47 percent of mobile operators surveyed believed further adoption of public Wi-Fi was "either very important or crucial" to keeping their customers happy, and that they hoped to combat increasing mobile data demand by offloading users to Wi-Fi, or with "pricing strategies" like the tiered data plans we're already seeing. This kind of sleight-of-hand is nothing new: users of AT&T are very familiar with a carrier deploying Wi-Fi options when its network can't handle traffic, and Verizon has also been getting in on the Wi-Fi game to placate users hitting their mobile data caps. Perhaps most tellingly, the carriers surveyed didn't see LTE affecting increased Wi-Fi adoption whatsoever.
There are currently 1.3 million public Wi-Fi hotspots around the globe, and the WBA estimates that number could hit 5.8 million by 2015. While smartphones already account for 36 percent of access globally — they match laptop use in the US, and outpace it in the Asia-Pacific region — adoption hasn't happened as quickly as carriers would like. The WBA thinks its Next Generation Hotspot program, which utilizes your phone's SIM card for easy hotspot authentication, will be the answer to broader adoption. Announced last June, the system is currently under trial with results scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2012. With the WBA predicting that mobile data traffic could reach 16.84 million terabytes by 2014, we certainly hope something's there to pick up the slack.