Wireless hotspot service provider Wireless G says the demand for services at pilot sites in the Sandton area indicates that SA is ready to follow the international hotspot growth trend that has seen the global number of hotspots reach 71,000 this year.

The company is running several pilot sites in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with demand at each being between 200 and 800 minutes a day. Wireless G CEO Carel van der Merwe says another 30 locations are to be activated in the next three weeks, with a total of 100 hotspots within the next six months.

M-Web has also set up pilot sites through a restaurant franchise in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to stimulate interest in WiFi hotspots. Once users become familiar with the technology, we expect to see the use and demand for this useful tool to become more pervasive," says M-Web’s WiFi GM Russel Dreisentock. "The huge success of the cellular telephone market in SA indicates there is a demand for people to work in a mobile environment."

Recent international surveys indicated that 84% of respondents would use hotpots if they were available. Gartner figures indicate there are about 9.3 million mobile roamers globally, having shot up from 2.5 million in the year since WiFi technology was introduced. The number of mobile roamers is projected at 130 million by 2007, when the ratio of notebook sales to desktop computers is expected to be 2:1.

Wireless G says these statistics are bound to translate into a demand for a worldwide network of hotspots.Establishing venues such as hotels, airports and service stations as hotspots will effectively make each venue a telecommunications provider, together forming a new telecommunications network.

Van der Merwe says the way is open for voice-over-IP (VOIP) to become a reality because it is too cheap and too competitive to be ignored. Dreisenstock says it is acknowledged by all players in the industry that there is a strong future in VOIP, but even though technologically there is a cheaper option available, it cannot yet be taken to market because of Telkom’s monopoly.