Public Wi-Fi hot spots have topped 100,000 worldwide for the first time, according to JiWire, a company that has kept a directory of hot spots since 2003.
The number of hot spots soared in the past year, hitting 100,355 last week, up from about 57,000 a year ago, the South San Francisco-based company is expected to announce Tuesday.
The U.S. leads the world in hot spots, with 37,073, JiWire said, followed by the U.K. with 12,668. The other eight countries in the top 10 are South Korea, with 9,415 hot spots; Germany, with 8,614; Japan, with 5,951; France, with 3,886; Italy, with 1,767; the Netherlands, with 1,703; Canada, with 1,397; and Switzerland, with 1,295).
The city with the largest number of hot spots is Seoul, with 2,056, followed by Tokyo (1,802); London (1,627); Paris (895); San Francisco (801); Daegu, South Korea (787); New York (643); Singapore (619); Busan, South Korea (617); and Hong Kong (605).
JiWire said 8,118 of the hot spots were free, and 92,237 charged fees for access. David Blumenfeld, vice president of marketing at JiWire, said daily fees for Wi-Fi can run from a few dollars to $US15 for a hotel, while a monthly fee might run up to $US40.
Free hot spots are on the rise, but there will always be hotels charging premium rates, and many airports will continue to charge users, since they can't easily walk to a free network, he said.
The 100,000 mark "is a unique milestone that shows Wi-Fi has taken root," Blumenfeld said, noting that Wi-Fi hot spots have been around only for four years. "It's still early."
He predicted that hot spots and wide-area broadband cards will coexist for some time as a means to access the Internet wirelessly. As long as carriers charge up to $US60 per month for wireless broadband access, users will seek other alternatives, he said.
Some hot spots have been dropped from the list that JiWire keeps, mainly because the entity running the network has gone out of business, Blumenfeld said. JiWire counts a hot spot as a geographical area over which a network runs, but that single network might serve multiple access providers.
The hot spots in the latest survey, which is updated weekly, are dominated by hotels (26,330) and restaurants (19,653). Cafes are a separate category, with 13,815, and are nearly tied with stores and shopping malls, at 13,827. Pubs make up 6,285, while all other locations total 20,445.
JiWire does not have an accurate count of hot spots provided by municipalities -- usually for free -- but Blumenfeld estimated that 30 are up and running and hundreds are being implemented.
In some cases, Wi-Fi has been so successful that operators have turned off the networks, Blumenfeld said. He cited an example of a Seattle-based coffee shop that had set up workstations for visitors, frequently college students, only to discover that many people were occupied with their laptops and not socializing. "The cafe owners said they wanted a more conversational community," Blumenfeld said.