I am ambivalent about predictions in hotspot growth: I held off on posting anything about ABI Research's PR on their report tracking current and estimating future hotspot growth. They expect 143,700 by the end of this year, which they say is a growth of 47 percent over 2005. Since hotspots are difficult to count given the number of ones-and-twos run by individuals and small businesses, I could argue that part of this growth is greater interest on the part of locations in getting themselves listed, too.
I don't disagree with ABI Research's basic assessment that growth will continue at a relatively slow pace--they see just 109,000 hotspots in the hospitality market by 2010, up from 40,000 today. While that may represent a 170-percent increase, it works out to about a 25 percent increase per year. Those new locations will come at this point largely from entire chains converting; from hotels in lesser-developed nations adding service; and from individually run hotels making their own decision to add service. When I stayed in a small hotel on the Pacific Ocean beach in Jacó, Costa Rica, in 2003, it had no Internet access, but it's the kind of establishment that, catering to tourists, will almost certainly add it when it becomes affordable to do so.
Fundamentally, it's not interesting to talk about hotspots any more, either. When you can get mobile WiMax, EVDO, HSDPA, and Wi-Fi in practically every location in the US with clouds of cell and WiMax along with metro-scale Wi-Fi deployments, hotspots will change in importance. There may be more of a shift to what's available on the local network--can I walk into Starbucks and download a 6 GB movie file quickly from a local server over 802.11n?--or the social aspect of the space. Higher bandwidth in hotspots may also drive continued interest. I have argued for a while that differentiation among hotspots, especially free versus fee, is quite tricky if they all work more or less well. But if one hotspots has a 6 Mbps downstream link and another 512 Kbps, it's quite possible that through word of mouth and experimentation, customers will migrate to the faster pipe even if they have to pay for it as bandwidth-intensive applications and Web sites keep appearing.