The use of handheld devices to access the web via Wi-Fi hotspots is growing, says In-Stat.

According to a report from market research company, in 2009, Wi-Fi hotspot increased by 47 percent, and handheld devices accounted for 35 percent of those connections, compared to 20 percent in 2008.

By 2011, they will account for half of the connections, it said.

The trend is crystal clear, according to Magnus Ahlström, Nordic marketing director at European hotspot operator The Cloud.

However, growth has been faster in the UK than in other parts of Europe, such as Germany, where The Cloud and its mobile operator partners are offering services.

Mobile phone operators in the UK have been more open to using Wi-Fi to offload their 3G networks than operators in other countries, Ahlström said.

Mobile operators can take a lot of the credit for the increase in traffic from handheld devices, according to In-Stat: their bundling of access to hotspots with mobile plans has made hotspots more popular, In-Stat said.

Making Wi-Fi hotspots easier to use, including automatically connecting users, has also been key to getting more users to access the internet via hotspots, according to Ahlström.

The iPhone has been a trailblazer when it comes to making it easier to connect to hotspots. Other smartphone vendors, including Nokia, still have some work to do, Ahlström said.

The traffic growth won't come just from smartphones. Wi-Fi-equipped cameras, gaming devices and personal media players are becoming more popular.

Shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled devices will increase from about 109 million in 2009 to 177 million in 2013, according to In-Stat.

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See also: Mobile internet devices to hit 1bn in 2013