Hotspot (Wi-Fi)

This article is about Wi-Fi hotspots. For hotspots running on a mobile telephone and tablet, see Tethering. For other uses, see Hotspot (disambiguation).
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.

Public hotspots may be found in a number of businesses for use of customers in many developed urban areas throughout the world, such as coffee shops. Many hotels offer wifi access to guests, either in guest rooms or in the lobby. Hotspots differ from wireless access points, which are the hardware devices used to provide a wireless network service. Private hotspots allow Internet access to a device (such as a tablet) via another device which may have data access via say a mobile device.


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 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,[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.

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.[5] The latest Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) Industry Report outlines a positive scenario for the Wi-Fi market: a steady annual increase from 5.2m public hotspots in 2012 to 10.5m public hotspots in 2018.[6] Collectively, WBA operator members serve more than 1 billion subscribers and operate more than 15 million hotspots globally.[7]


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.[8]

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.[9]


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.


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.

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.. 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.

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".[10] 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,[11] Windows mobile, 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,[12] Sprint,[13] and T-Mobile[14] charge users for this service or prohibit and disconnect user connections if tethering is detected.

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

Hotspot 2.0, also known as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint,[23] 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.[24][25][26]

Supported devices


EDCF User-Priority-List
  Net traffic
low high
Audio Video Data Audio Video Data
User needs time-critical 7 5 0 6 4 0
not time-critical - - 2 - - 2

The so-called "User-Fairness-Model[30] " 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
low high
User needs time-critical standard exclusive
not time-critical low priced standard

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):

See Service-oriented provisioning for viable implementations

Security concerns

Some hotspots authenticate users; however, this does not prevent users from viewing network traffic using packet sniffers.[31]

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

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.

Legal concerns

Depending upon the location, providers of public hotspot access may have legal obligations, related to privacy requirements and liability for use for unlawful purposes.[32] 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. 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

United Kingdom

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hotspots (Wi-Fi).


  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. "Demand for Mobility will Boost Global Wi-Fi Hotspots to Reach 6.3 Million in 2013". ABI Research.
  8. Ngo, Dong (30 October 2012). "Networking buying guide". Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  9. "IPass Wi-Fi Growth Map". Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  10. "Mi-Fi". Sprint PCS.
  11. "Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide". Maria Langer. 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  12. "Mobile Hotspots". AT&T Shop.
  13. "New Mobile Hotspot Plans and Usage Notification Options". Sprint Community: Plans. May 16, 2012.
  14. "Smartphone Mobile Hotspot". Tethering FAQ.
  15. "Free Hotspot Software". AmazingPorts.
  16. "Hotspot". Antamedia.
  17. "Connectify Hotspot".
  18. "Jaze Hotspot Gateway". Jaze Networks.
  19. "Hot Spot Network manager". HSNM.
  20. "Virtual Router". Codeplex.
  21. "Tanaza".
  22. "Start Hotspot software".
  23. vonNagy, Andrew (20 May 2012). "Wi-Fi Alliance Rebrands Hotspot 2.0 as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  24. Simkins, Rob (10 January 2012). "Hotspot 2.0". Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  25. Burton, Marcus (10 January 2012). "Hotspot 2.0 and the Next Generation Hotspot". Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  26. Fitchard, Kevin (March 7, 2014). "Hotspot 2.0 inches its way into public Wi-Fi networks". Gigaom.
  27. 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.
  28. Branscombe, Mary (3 October 2012). "Wi-Fi roaming: Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot". ZDNet. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  29. 1 2 "Hotspot 2.0 - Windows Hardware Dev". Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  30. Pommer, Hermann: Roaming zwischen Wireless Local Area Networks. VDM Verlag, Saarbrücken 2008, ISBN 978-3-8364-8708-5.
  31. "Internet Security Podcast episode 10: Free WiFi And The Security issues it poses". 18 February 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  32. WiFi Foundation Legal Advice
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