Hotspot (Wi-Fi)

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This article is about Wi-Fi fixed hotspots. For hotspots running on a mobile telephone, see tethering. For other uses, see Hotspot (disambiguation).
A diagram showing a Wi-Fi network

A hotspot is a site that offers Internet access over a wireless local area network (WLAN) through the use of a router connected to a link to an Internet service provider. Hotspots typically use Wi-Fi technology.

Hotspots may be found in coffee shops and various other public establishments in many developed urban areas throughout the world.


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.[1] 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 that 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,[2] American Airlines,[3] and Hilton Hotels.[4] 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.


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, most include the Wi-Fi feature.

For venues that have broadband Internet access, offering wireless access is as simple as configuring one 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.[5]


Security is a serious concern in connection with Hotspots. There are three possible attack vectors. First, there is the wireless connection between the client and the access point. This 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 travels over the wired connection up to the BRAS of the ISP. Third, there is the connection from the Access Point to the BRAS of the ISP. ...

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.


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 in their campuses.

ABI Research reported there was a total of 4.9 million global Wi-Fi hotspots in 2012 and projected that number would surpass 6.3 million by the end of 2013.[6]

In a public pay phone, there is also sometimes a hotspot.


Free hotspots operate in two ways:

Commercial hotspots[edit]

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]

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[edit]

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".[7] Manufacturers can enable this functionality through driver-level support. Modern consumer operating systems, including Apple OS X 10.6 and later,[citation needed] added features to support this. However, some service providers, such as AT&T,[8] Sprint,[9] and T-Mobile[10] charge users for this service.

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. Third party implementations of software hotspots include:

Hotspot 2.0[edit]

Hotspot 2.0, also known as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint,[16] 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, while also alleviating mobile carrier infrastructure of traffic overheads.

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.[17][18][19]

Supported handsets[edit]


EDCF User-Priority-List
 Net traffic
User needstime-critical750640
not time-critical--2--2

The so-called "User-Fairness-Model[22] " is a dynamic billing model, which allows a volume-based billing, charged only by the amount of payload (data, video, audio). Moreover, the tariff is classified by net traffic and user needs (Pommer, p. 116ff).

If the net traffic increases, then the user has to pay the next higher tariff class. By the way the user is asked for if he still wishes the session also by a higher traffic class. Moreover, in time-critical applications (video, audio) a higher class fare is charged, than for non time-critical applications (such as reading Web pages, 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) (Pommer, p. 117):

If the net traffic increases, then the frames of the particular access category (AC) are assigned a low priority value (e.g. video UP 5 to UP 4). This is also, if the data transfer is not time-critical.

See Service-oriented provisioning for viable implementations

Security concerns[edit]

Some hotspots authenticate users; however, this does not prevent users from viewing network traffic using packet sniffers.[23]

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]

In order to provide robust security to hotspot users, the Wi-Fi Alliance is developing a new hotspot program that aims to encrypt hotspot traffic with WPA2 security. The program was scheduled to launch in the first half of 2012.[dated info][citation needed]

Legal concerns[edit]

Providers of public hotspot access may incur legal obligations, including privacy requirements and liability for use for unlawful purposes, depending on the jurisdiction.[24]

European Union[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wi-Fi Timeline- Wifi Net News
  2. ^ Marsan, Carolyn Duffy (25 June 2001). "Starbucks wireless network a sweet deal for MobileStar". Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  3. ^ "American Airlines and MobileStar Network to Deliver Wireless Internet Connectivity to American's Passengers". PR Newswire. 11 May 2000. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  4. ^ "MobileStar Network to Supply U.S. Hilton Hotels With Wireless High-Speed Internet Access". 28 October 1998. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Ngo, Dong (30 October 2012). "Networking buying guide". Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Growing "Demand for Mobility will Boost Global Wi-Fi Hotspots to Reach 6.3 Million in 2013". ABI Research. 
  7. ^ "Mi-Fi". Sprint PCS. 
  8. ^ "Mobile Hotspots". AT&T Shop. 
  9. ^ "New Mobile Hotspot Plans and Usage Notification Options". Sprint Community: Plans. May 16, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Smartphone Mobile Hotspot". Tethering FAQ. 
  11. ^ "Hotspot". Antamedia. 
  12. ^ "Connectify Hotspot". 
  13. ^ "Jaze Hotspot Gateway". Jaze Networks. 
  14. ^ "Hot Spot Network manager". HSNM. 
  15. ^ "Virtual Router". Codeplex. 
  16. ^ vonNagy, Andrew (20 May 2012). "Wi-Fi Alliance Rebrands Hotspot 2.0 as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint". Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  17. ^ Simkins, Rob (10 January 2012). "Hotspot 2.0". Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Burton, Marcus (10 January 2012). "Hotspot 2.0 and the Next Generation Hotspot". Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  19. ^ Fitchard, Kevin (March 7, 2014). "Hotspot 2.0 inches its way into public Wi-Fi networks". Gigaom. 
  20. ^ Brownlee, John (2013-06-12). "iOS 7 Will Make It Possible To Roam Between Open Wi-Fi Networks Without Your Data Ever Dropping". Cult of Mac. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  21. ^ Branscombe, Mary (3 October 2012). "Wi-Fi roaming: Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot". ZDNet. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  22. ^ Pommer, Hermann: Roaming zwischen Wireless Local Area Networks. VDM Verlag, Saarbrücken 2008, ISBN 978-3-8364-8708-5.
  23. ^ "Internet Security Podcast episode 10: Free WiFi And The Security issues it poses". 18 February 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  24. ^ WiFi Foundation Legal Advice