Barcelona: Wi-Fi networks, having become a household fixture in the past decade, remains too annoying to use outside the home for many, hindering carriers' ambitions to leverage the wireless Internet technology.As hotspots pop up across cities and public transportation, multiple passwords, spotty coverage, extra charges, and phones that connect to unauthorised Wi-Fi by mistake and disable wireless data are turning some customers off.
Home remains the most popular place to use Wi-Fi — some operators see as much as 75 per cent of mobile traffic carried on personal routers, while as little as 5 per cent goes over outdoor hotspots, industry group Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) found in a November survey.
"The phone connects to the network automatically: you appear to have Wi-Fi and all connection is in fact lost," said Dave Field, a public relations consultant in London who uses Sky's Cloud Wi-Fi service and Virgin Media's hotspots in the Underground subway.
"Auto-connect is also a real pain as you often need to complete long forms and bank cards — quite difficult on an iPhone."
Such complaints make it more difficult for providers such as Vodafone and AT&T, which are increasingly counting on the technology to ease traffic on their mobile networks, and companies like BT Group and British Sky Broadcasting, which want to use Wi-Fi to win user loyalty.
At the Mobile World Congress, over 70,000 are gathering to discuss the future of wireless communications. Companies' ambition of streaming videos through wireless networks and marketing to consumers by location largely depend on full and frequent access to the mobile Web. To assist bloggers, analysts and media swarming the Fira Gran Via convention centre, organisers have promised 50 per cent more Wi- Fi hotspots than last year for 250 per cent more capacity.
The WBA is working to ease access, pushing for so-called next-generation hotspots to cut the need for user names and passwords. More than 50 companies, including AT&T, BT and China Mobile agreed in December to roaming deals integrating Wi-Fi networks, billing and security as part of the initiative.
It will begin deploying in the first half of this year. The group is also testing a system using mobile-phone smartcards to identify users so they won't have to log in. By using SIM cards, which store a user's identity in the phone, customers won't have to log in to the best available networks and their credentials will work across them all, said WBA programme director Tiago Rodrigues.
As carriers expand their Wi-Fi hotspots in public places, they have to ensure they can handle the traffic so users aren't driven away as soon as they try to get on. In the UK, Wi-Fi use drops to its lowest points when customers leave home, a Nielsen survey of people with devices using Google's Android found in September.
It accounts for about 90 per cent of data use between 8pm and 5am and drops to a low of about 65 per cent at midday.