More users than ever before are going mobile, if statistics from a number of South African WiFi hotspots are anything to go by. In fact, figures for May from the WiFi joint venture between MWeb, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and Internet Solutions show a usage increase of over 300% year-on-year. 

Andre Joubert, GM of MWeb Business, says that during May, more than 4-million minutes of WiFi Internet access were sold – a record figure, up from 87 000 minutes in March 2005.
“Some of the factors contributing to the increase have been the introduction of data packages which were launched mid-2006 (in addition to the time packages already available) as well as the expansion of the network with between 15 and 20 new hotspots every month. The data packages range from 100Mb to 2Gb and are valid for one year. This means that a customer can buy a once-off 2Gb package and use it for up to a year.”
Worldwide, the demand for wireless, high-speed Internet access is growing at exponential rates and South African adoption is starting to mirror this growth.
“The convenience, ease of use and the fact that it provides users with a high-speed Internet connection is what makes Wi-Fi so appealing,” says Joubert. “We have seen exponential growth in the usage of WiFi hotspots since we launched it, and coupled with the huge increase in the number of hotspots around the country (now standing at more than 250) it means more users than ever are able to access a WiFi service.”
Usage statistics show that international airports are still the most popular hotspot locations in terms of the number of users and minutes consumed. At OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, usage is up more than 50% year on year while popular restaurant chain, The Mugg & Bean, has shown an increase of more than 150% in WiFi usage in the last year.
“WiFi has become part of business life in South Africa and is therefore ideal for people on the move,” says Joubert. “It’s changing the way we communicate and allowing the small business owner to run a business from an office, café or airport lounge. Travelling business people are no longer bound by wires or geography and, provided they are in a WiFi zone, can gain access to a broadband Internet connection via any WiFi-enabled device, such as a laptop or personal digital assistant (PDA)."
Internet Solutions, together with their integration partner Always-On, has recently signed up two new international roaming partners, Boingo and Trustive, in addition to the current agreements with WeRoam, QuiConnect, Roampoint, BT Openzone and Ipass.
The partners offer several options for venue owners to easily enable their locations as WiFi hotspots. The most popular model has no risk to venue owners and provides them with a WiFi hotspot with no capital or monthly expense. This no-risk model, together with the massive marketing potential of the WiFi hotspots, provides venue owners with a real draw card for customers.
 “The future is bright for WiFi," says Joubert. “We will soon be trialling VoIP from hotspots, with the aim of commercialising a voice service using WiFi.
"At some point we aim to offer corporates the opportunity to use their VoIP contracts at hotspots as well, by linking to their VoIP service providers. Since VoIP is far cheaper than cellular, it makes sense, and as soon as dual mode phones become more widely available, it will be far easier to co-ordinate.”