Hotspot (Wi-Fi)

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A diagram showing a Wi-Fi network WI-FI Range Diagram.svg
A diagram showing a Wi-Fi network

A hotspot is a physical location where people may obtain Internet access, typically using Wi-Fi technology, via a wireless local area network (WLAN) using a router connected to an internet service provider.

Internet access individual connection to the internet

Internet access is the ability of individuals and organizations to connect to the Internet using computer terminals, computers, and other devices; and to access services such as email and the World Wide Web. Internet access is sold by Internet service providers (ISPs) delivering connectivity at a wide range of data transfer rates via various networking technologies. Many organizations, including a growing number of municipal entities, also provide cost-free wireless access.

Wi-Fi wireless local area networks technology based on IEEEs 802.11 standards

Wi-Fi is a family of radio technologies commonly used for wireless local area networking (WLAN) of devices. It is based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. Wi‑Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, which restricts the use of the term Wi-Fi Certified to products that successfully complete interoperability certification testing. The Wi-Fi Alliance includes 3Com, Aironet, Harris Semiconductor, Lucent, Nokia and Symbol Technologies.

Wireless LAN wireless computer network that links devices using wireless communication within a limited area

A wireless LAN (WLAN) is a wireless computer network that links two or more devices using wireless communication to form a local area network (LAN) within a limited area such as a home, school, computer laboratory, campus, office building etc. This gives users the ability to move around within the area and yet still be connected to the network. Through a gateway, a WLAN can also provide a connection to the wider Internet.


Public hotspots may be created by a business for use by customers, such as coffee shops or hotels. Public hotspots are typically created from wireless access points configured to provide Internet access, controlled to some degree by the venue. In its simplest form, venues that have broadband Internet access can create public wireless access by configuring an access point (AP), in conjunction with a router and connecting the AP to the Internet connection. A single wireless router combining these functions may suffice. [1]

Coffeehouse Establishment serving coffee

A coffeehouse, coffee shop, or café is an establishment that primarily serves coffee, related coffee drinks, and – depending on country – other drinks including alcoholic. Some coffeehouses may serve cold drinks such as iced coffee and iced tea; in continental Europe, cafés serve alcoholic drinks. A coffeehouse may also serve some type of food, such as light snacks, sandwiches, muffins or other pastries. Coffeehouses range from owner-operated small businesses to large multinational corporations. Some coffeehouses are franchise based business models, with numerous branches across various countries all around the world.

Wireless access point device that allows wireless devices to connect to a wired network using Wi-Fi, or related standards

In computer networking, a wireless access point (WAP), or more generally just access point (AP), is a networking hardware device that allows other Wi-Fi devices to connect to a wired network. The AP usually connects to a router as a standalone device, but it can also be an integral component of the router itself. An AP is differentiated from a hotspot, which is the physical location where Wi-Fi access to a WLAN is available.

Private hotspots may be configured on a smartphone or tablet with a mobile network data plan to allow Internet access to other devices via Bluetooth pairing or if both the hotspot device and the device/s accessing it are connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the industrial, scientific and medical radio bands, from 2.400 to 2.485 GHz, and building personal area networks (PANs). It was originally conceived as a wireless alternative to RS-232 data cables.


The public can use a laptop or other suitable portable device to access the wireless connection (usually Wi-Fi) provided. Of the estimated 150 million laptops, 14 million PDAs, and other emerging Wi-Fi devices sold per year for the last few years,[ when? ] most include the Wi-Fi feature.

Laptop Personal computer for mobile use

A laptop computer is a small, portable personal computer (PC) with a "clamshell" form factor, typically having a thin LCD or LED computer screen mounted on the inside of the upper lid of the clamshell and an alphanumeric keyboard on the inside of the lower lid. The clamshell is opened up to use the computer. Laptops are folded shut for transportation, and thus are suitable for mobile use. Its name comes from lap, as it was deemed to be placed on a person's lap when being used. Although originally there was a distinction between laptops and notebooks, as of 2014, there is often no longer any difference. Laptops are commonly used in a variety of settings, such as at work, in education, for playing games, Internet surfing, for personal multimedia, and general home computer use.

Personal digital assistant The "Personal Digital Assistant" is used in many games.

A personal digital assistant (PDA), also known as a handheld PC, is a variety mobile device which functions as a personal information manager. PDAs have been mostly displaced by the widespread adoption of highly capable smartphones, in particular those based on iOS and Android.

The iPass 2014 interactive map, that shows data provided by the analysts Maravedis Rethink, shows that in December 2014 there are 46,000,000 hotspots worldwide and more than 22,000,000 roamable hotspots. More than 10,900 hotspots are on trains, planes and airports (Wi-Fi in motion) and more than 8,500,000 are "branded" hotspots (retail, cafés, hotels). The region with the largest number of public hotspots is Europe, followed by North America and Asia. [2]

Libraries throughout the United States are implementing hotspot lending programs to extend access to online library services to users at home who cannot afford in-home Internet access or do not have access to Internet infrastructure. The New York Public Library was the largest program, lending out 10,000 devices to library patrons. [3] Similar programs have existed in Kansas, [4] Maine, [5] and Oklahoma; [6] and many individual libraries are implementing these programs. [7]

New York Public Library Public library system in New York City

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is a public library system in New York City. With nearly 53 million items and 92 locations, the New York Public Library is the second largest public library in the United States and the third largest in the world. It is a private, non-governmental, independently managed, nonprofit corporation operating with both private and public financing.

Wi-Fi positioning is a method for geolocation based on the positions of nearby hotspots. [8]

Security issues

Security is a serious concern in connection with public and private hotspots. There are three possible attack scenarios. First, there is the wireless connection between the client and the access point, which needs to be encrypted, so that the connection cannot be eavesdropped or attacked by a man-in-the-middle attack. Second, there is the hotspot itself. The WLAN encryption ends at the interface, then travels its network stack unencrypted and then, third, travels over the wired connection up to the BRAS of the ISP.

Depending upon the set up of a public hotspot, the provider of the hotspot has access to the metadata and content accessed by users of the hotspot. The safest method when accessing the Internet over a hotspot, with unknown security measures, is end-to-end encryption. Examples of strong end-to-end encryption are HTTPS and SSH.

Some hotspots authenticate users; however, this does not prevent users from viewing network traffic using packet sniffers. [9]

Some vendors provide a download option that deploys WPA support. This conflicts with enterprise configurations that have solutions specific to their internal WLAN.[ citation needed ]

The Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE) standard provides encrypted communication in open Wi-Fi networks, alongside the WPA3 standard. [10]


Public hotspots are often found at airports, bookstores, coffee shops, department stores, fuel stations, hotels, hospitals, libraries, public pay phones, restaurants, RV parks and campgrounds, supermarkets, train stations, and other public places. Additionally, many schools and universities have wireless networks on their campuses.


Free hotspots operate in two ways:

Commercial hotspots

A commercial hotspot may feature:

Many services provide payment services to hotspot providers, for a monthly fee or commission from the end-user income. For example, Amazingports can be used to set up hotspots that intend to offer both fee-based and free internet access, and ZoneCD is a Linux distribution that provides payment services for hotspot providers who wish to deploy their own service.[ citation needed ]

Major airports and business hotels are more likely to charge for service, though most hotels provide free service to guests; and increasingly, small airports and airline lounges offer free service.[ citation needed ]. Retail shops, public venues and offices usually provide a free Wi-Fi SSID for their guests and visitors.

Roaming services are expanding among major hotspot service providers. With roaming service the users of a commercial provider can have access to other providers' hotspots, either free of charge or for extra fees, which users will usually be charged on an access-per-minute basis.[ citation needed ]

Software hotspots

Many Wi-Fi adapters built into or easily added to consumer computers and mobile devices include the functionality to operate as private or mobile hotspots, sometimes referred to as "mi-fi". [13] The use of a private hotspot to enable other personal devices to access the WAN (usually but not always the Internet) is a form of bridging, and known as tethering. Manufacturers and firmware creators can enable this functionality in Wi-Fi devices on many Wi-Fi devices, depending upon the capabilities of the hardware, and most modern consumer operating systems, including Android, Apple OS X 10.6 and later, [14] Windows mobile, [15] and Linux include features to support this. Additionally wireless chipset manufacturers such as Atheros, Broadcom, Intel and others, may add the capability for certain Wi-Fi NICs, usually used in a client role, to also be used for hotspot purposes. However, some service providers, such as AT&T, [16] Sprint, [17] and T-Mobile [18] charge users for this service or prohibit and disconnect user connections if tethering is detected.[ citation needed ]

Third-party software vendors offer applications to allow users to operate their own hotspot, whether to access the Internet when on the go, share an existing connection, or extend the range of another hotspot.

Hotspot 2.0

Hotspot 2.0, also known as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, [19] is an approach to public access Wi-Fi by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The idea is for mobile devices to automatically join a Wi-Fi subscriber service whenever the user enters a Hotspot 2.0 area, in order to provide better bandwidth and services-on-demand to end-users and relieve carrier infrastructure of some traffic.

Hotspot 2.0 is based on the IEEE 802.11u standard, which is a set of protocols published in 2011 to enable cellular-like roaming. If the device supports 802.11u and is subscribed to a Hotspot 2.0 service it will automatically connect and roam. [20] [21] [22]

Supported devices

  • Apple mobile devices running iOS 7 and up [23]
  • Some Samsung Galaxy smartphones [24]
  • Windows 10 devices have full support for network discovery and connection. [25]
  • Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 lack network discovery, but support connecting to a network when the credentials are known. [25]


EDCF user-priority list
 Net traffic
User needstime-critical750640
not time-critical--2--2

The "user-fairness model" is a dynamic billing model, which allows volume-based billing, charged only by the amount of payload (data, video, audio). Moreover, the tariff is classified by net traffic and user needs. [26] [ citation needed ]

If the net traffic increases, then the user has to pay the next higher tariff class. The user can be prompted to confirm that they want to continue the session in the higher traffic class.[ dubious ] A higher class fare can also be charged for delay sensitive applications such as video and audio, versus non time-critical applications such as reading Web pages and sending e-mail.

Tariff classes of the user-fairness model
 Net traffic
User needstime-criticalstandardexclusive
not time-criticallow pricedstandard

The "User-fairness model" can be implemented with the help of EDCF (IEEE 802.11e). A EDCF user priority list shares the traffic in 3 access categories (data, video, audio) and user priorities (UP). [26] [ citation needed ]

See Service-oriented provisioning for viable implementations.

Depending upon the set up of a public hotspot, the provider of the hotspot has access to the metadata and content accessed by users of the hotspot, and may have legal obligations related to privacy requirements and liability for use of the hotspot for unlawful purposes. [27] In countries where the internet is regulated or freedom of speech more restricted, there may be requirements such as licensing, logging, or recording of user information.[ citation needed ] Concerns may also relate to child safety, and social issues such as exposure to objectionable content, protection against cyberbullying and illegal behaviours, and prevention of perpetration of such behaviors by hotspot users themselves.

European Union

The Data Retention Directive which required hotspot owners to retain key user statistics for 12 months was annulled by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. The Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications was replaced in 2018 by the General Data Protection Regulation, which imposes restrictions on data collection by hotspot operators.

United Kingdom


Public park in Brooklyn, New York has free Wi-Fi from a local corporation. CDSC wifi Classon jeh.jpg
Public park in Brooklyn, New York has free Wi-Fi from a local corporation.

Public access wireless local area networks (LANs) were first proposed by Henrik Sjödin at the NetWorld+Interop conference in The Moscone Center in San Francisco in August 1993. [28] Sjödin did not use the term "hotspot" but referred to publicly accessible wireless LANs.

The first commercial venture to attempt to create a public local area access network was a firm founded in Richardson, Texas known as PLANCOM (Public Local Area Network Communications). The founders of the venture, Mark Goode, Greg Jackson, and Brett Stewart dissolved the firm in 1998, while Goode and Jackson created MobileStar Networks. The firm was one of the first to sign such public access locations as Starbucks, [29] American Airlines, [30] and Hilton Hotels. [31] The company was sold to Deutsche Telecom in 2001, who then converted the name of the firm into "T-Mobile Hotspot". It was then that the term "hotspot" entered the popular vernacular as a reference to a location where a publicly accessible wireless LAN is available.

ABI Research reported there was a total of 4.9 million global Wi-Fi hotspots in 2012. [32] In 2016 the Wireless Broadband Alliance predicted a steady annual increase from 5.2m public hotspots in 2012 to 10.5m in 2018. [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

Wireless community network

Wireless community networks (WCNs) or wireless community projects are organizations that take a grassroots approach to providing a viable alternative to municipal wireless networks for consumers.

Voice over WLAN

Voice over wireless LAN is the use of a wireless broadband network according to the IEEE 802.11 standards for the purpose of vocal conversation. In essence, it is voice over IP (VoIP) over a Wi-Fi network. In most cases, the Wi-Fi network and voice components supporting the voice system are privately owned.

Wireless wide area network (WWAN), is a form of wireless network. The larger size of a wide area network compared to a local area network requires differences in technology. Wireless networks of different sizes deliver data in the form of telephone calls, web pages, and streaming video.

Fon (company) company

Fon Wireless Ltd. is a company incorporated and registered in the United Kingdom that provides wireless services. Fon was founded in Madrid, Spain, in 2006, by Martín Varsavsky where it headquarters most of its operations.

Wireless security

Wireless security is the prevention of unauthorized access or damage to computers or data using wireless networks, which include Wi-Fi networks. The most common type is Wi-Fi security, which includes Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). WEP is a notoriously weak security standard: the password it uses can often be cracked in a few minutes with a basic laptop computer and widely available software tools. WEP is an old IEEE 802.11 standard from 1997, which was superseded in 2003 by WPA, or Wi-Fi Protected Access. WPA was a quick alternative to improve security over WEP. The current standard is WPA2; some hardware cannot support WPA2 without firmware upgrade or replacement. WPA2 uses an encryption device that encrypts the network with a 256-bit key; the longer key length improves security over WEP. Enterprises often enforce security using a certificate-based system to authenticate the connecting device, following the standard 802.1X.

Municipal wireless network

A municipal wireless network is a citywide wireless network. This usually works by providing municipal broadband via Wi-Fi to large parts or all of a municipal area by deploying a wireless mesh network. The typical deployment design uses hundreds of wireless access points deployed outdoors, often on poles. The operator of the network acts as a wireless internet service provider.

IEEE 802.11u-2011 is an amendment to the IEEE 802.11-2007 standard to add features that improve interworking with external networks.

Tethering connecting one device to another

Tethering, or phone-as-modem (PAM), is the sharing of a mobile device's Internet connection with other connected computers. Connection of a mobile device with other devices can be done over wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), over Bluetooth or by physical connection using a cable, for example through USB.

Generic Access Network protocol that extends mobile voice, data and multimediam applications over IP networks

Generic Access Network (GAN) is a protocol that extends mobile voice, data and multimedia applications over IP networks. Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) is the commercial name used by mobile carriers for external IP access into their core networks. The latest generation system is named Wi-Fi Calling or VoWiFi by a number of handset manufacturers, including Apple and Samsung, a move that is being mirrored by carriers like T-Mobile US and Vodafone. The service is dependant on IMS, IPsec and ePDG.

WISPr or Wireless Internet Service Provider roaming is a draft protocol submitted to the Wi-Fi Alliance that allows users to roam between wireless internet service providers in a fashion similar to that which allows cellphone users to roam between carriers. A RADIUS server is used to authenticate the subscriber's credentials.

Piggybacking on Internet access is the practice of establishing a wireless Internet connection by using another subscriber's wireless Internet access service without the subscriber's explicit permission or knowledge. It is a legally and ethically controversial practice, with laws that vary by jurisdiction around the world. While completely outlawed or regulated in some places, it is permitted in others.

Boingo Wireless

Boingo Wireless is an American company that provides mobile Internet access for wireless-enabled consumer devices. The company reports having over one million small cell networks for cellular extension services (aka distributed antenna system and Wi-Fi access that reaches more than one billion consumers annually. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, California.


Wireless@SG is a wireless broadband programme developed by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore as part of its Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure initiative, being part of the nation's 10-year masterplan called Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015).

In Romania, there are 18.8 million connections to the Internet. Romania's country code is .ro. The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with other European Union member states. There were over 600 000 domains registered under .ro at the end of 2012.

Mobile broadband modem Modem providing Internet access via a wireless connection

A mobile broadband modem is a type of modem that allows a personal computer or a router to receive Internet access via a mobile broadband connection instead of using telephone or cable television lines. A mobile Internet user can connect using a wireless modem to a wireless Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get Internet access.

Mobile data offloading is the use of complementary network technologies for delivering data originally targeted for cellular networks. Offloading reduces the amount of data being carried on the cellular bands, freeing bandwidth for other users. It is also used in situations where local cell reception may be poor, allowing the user to connect via wired services with better connectivity.

Connectify is an American software company that develops networking software for consumers, professionals and companies. Connectify Hotspot is a virtual router software for Microsoft Windows. and Speedify is a mobile VPN service with channel bonding capabilities.


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