At least one in three home routers will be used as public WiFi hotspots by 2017, and the total installed base of such dual-use routers will reach 366 million globally by the end of 2020, according to a report from Juniper Research.
The report explained that these so-called ‘homespot’ routers essentially create two wireless networks separated by a firewall.
This means one network is for private use while the other is offered as a public WiFi hotspot by the broadband operators.
"The main driver behind the growth of homespots is primarily the rate at which broadband operators around the world replace existing home routers with homespot routers," research author Gareth Owen told eWEEK. "This will depend primarily on the investment priorities of individual operators, and to a lesser extent, on the available supply of new homespot routers from vendors. Clearly, this will vary from country to country and by region."
He explained major broadband operators such as BT, UPC and Virgin Media in Europe and several of the biggest U.S. cable TV operators such as Comcast and Cablevision have adopted the homespot model as a low-cost way of rapidly expanding their domestic WiFi coverage.
The research highlighted the consumer benefits that the policy offers, such as free or reduced-fee access to the operator’s homespot network.
Owen acknowledged there were potential roadblocks to adoption in the form of security issues and protecting consumer privacy, but noted there were several advantages to using the technology.
"Despite possible privacy and security issues, there are clearly benefits for consumers that agree to allow their routers to be used as public WiFi hotspots," he said.
However, Owen also noted that given the current concerns around privacy and data security, the realization that home routers can be accessed by complete strangers was unlikely to be viewed in a positive light.
The research pointed out that the rapid expansion of WiFi in this way is also giving rise to a number of global WiFi aggregators such as iPass, which leases its network on a wholesale basis to telcos, cable operators and corporate customers.
"The convergence of network technologies is leading to the entry of other new players, such as big-tech companies, who are keen to leverage the technology in a disruptive way to enter new markets," Owen said.
While almost all consumers (97 percent) connect to and use WiFi in their homes, a vast majority (76 percent) also connect to WiFi outside of the home on a regular basis, according to a recent Xirrus study of 300 consumers.