'Can I have a coffee and Wi-Fi please?'

Wi-Fi use in the UK is increasing rapidly, with web surfers connecting at airports, coffee shops and hotels the most, according to new research.

Mobility firm iPass found that Wi-Fi use went up by 44 per cent between the first and second half of 2006. Its latest Wi-Fi hotspot index also shows that the number of wireless access sessions increased by 74 per cent.

London is the Wi-Fi capital of the world with regard to Wi-Fi use in non-office locations such as cafés, bars and shops. Wireless surfers in London clocked up some 11,000 sessions during the second half of 2006; twice as much as those in Singapore, which came second in the rankings.

Airports are especially popular locations for surfers to connect, with almost half the of the world's public Wi-Fi use consumed in airports. Heathrow Airport is the top travel spot, followed by Gatwick, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.

Doug Loewe, managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at iPass, said: "2006 was a fantastic year for Wi-Fi hotspots with strong worldwide and European growth."

"User education has been a driving factor [in the growth of Wi-Fi] as people have started to see the benefits of getting connected wherever they go. Advances in wireless technology and IT security have also enabled IT departments to roll out wireless initiatives with confidence," Loewe said.

Worldwide, Wi-Fi users in coffee shops such as Starbucks and Caffè Nero spent more than 180,000 hours online during the second half of 2006. McDonald's and other restaurants were the second most popular venue, with more than 4,000 sessions each month.

Loewe added: "It's got to the point where people often choose where to stay, or meet, based on whether they can get reliable Wi-Fi access. Branded venues such as Marriott hotels and Starbucks cafés are proving popular with iPass customers because they know they can get connected there."

A list of Wi-Fi hotspots at the world's airports can be found at atlarge.com.