Jobs and the Future of Work

Where are the world’s Wi-Fi hotspots?

Jessica Orwig
Science editorial intern, Business Insider
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Whether it’s checking e-mail in bed, getting directions on the run, or watching Netflix as you sink into your comfortable couch cushions, we’re constantly surfing the net.

But we rarely stop to consider the crucial lifeline that connects us to this new-age lifestyle — the hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi networks and cellphone towers across the globe, which make it all possible.

Now, you can see what this lifeline looks like in some of the largest cities in the world, thanks to the producers at Mapbox and Skyhook. Each yellow dot in the map below of the eastern US is a single Wi-Fi signal:


Courtesy of Mapbox using Skyhook

For years, the people at Skyhook — a big data company that improves location tracking services on phones — tracked triangulating Wi-Fi signals around the world.

Now digital artist Eric Fischer has taken that data and made a map of 900 million Wi-Fi signals in cities like Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Tokyo, and London.

You can check out an interactive version of that map here where you can zoom in and out.

Fischer says his map is the most precise one ever made that features global Wi-Fi interconnectivity.

“It’s these Wi-Fi points that are the key for making positioning on your phone super accurate,” Lindsay Young, who is another expert at Mapbox, told Business Insider in an email. “Everyone always thinks GPS is what puts the blue dot on your map — but GPS is only accurate within 10 meters and phones don’t have super powerful GPS antennas.”

When you zoom in on a massive city like Manhattan, you get a breathtaking site of electronic activity:


Courtesy of Mapbox using data from Skyhook

“If you zoom out from the dense coverage of Manhattan, you can see neighborhoods full of yellow, all mapped within the last six months, where many people are constantly passing by with cell phones,” Fischer wrote on his blog for Mapbox. “The result is a snapshot of how people are moving through the city each day.”

Some cities are displayed in different colors. For example, Seoul, in South Korea has more pink and purple than yellow. The different colored dots “show the diverse ecosystems of Wi-Fi and cell towers,” Fischer told Business Insider. Here’s Seoul:

seoulCourtesy of Mapbox using data from Skyhook

And here you can see how Wi-Fi signals outline the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia:

harbor_bridge_sydneyCourtesy of Mapbox using data from Skyhook

These maps looks remarkably similar to photos snapped from space of city lights. But instead of physical light, we’re seeing the tremendous activity of electronics across the globe. Here you can see the Wi-Fi hot spots of England, France, and Belgium as they illuminate the map:

150908- global wifi hotspots BI

Courtesy of Mapbox using data from Skyhook

Check out Fischer’s blog post and interactive map for more amazing visuals of the world’s electronic lifeline. You can also read Skyhook’s version on their blog here.

This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Jessica Orwig is a science reporter at Business Insider.

Image: An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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