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What are WiFi® Hotspots?

Phil Shepley
Phil Shepley

WiFi® hotspots are locations that feature wireless Internet access, which can be accessed by anyone with a laptop computer, notebook, cell phone, PDA or other device with wireless capabilities. They are usually found in places like coffee shops, but can be offered in a wide variety of different businesses as well as many public areas, some even covering entire cities. The Internet access at a WiFi® hotspot is sometimes free, but often someone who wants to utilize it must pay for a wireless access plan.

Brett Stewart first proposed the idea of WiFi® hotspots at an Internet conference in San Francisco in 1993. Although the term "WiFi® hotspot" would not be coined until several years later, the seed had been planted. Not only had companies started investigating the technology to make public WiFi® possible, but several startup companies were also created whose business goal was to build and maintain the necessary equipment for WiFi® hotspots to become more mainstream.

Hotels commonly offer WiFi® hotspots.
Hotels commonly offer WiFi® hotspots.

Today it takes a relatively small amount of equipment to create a WiFi® access point around which a hotspot can be created. Because of the relative ease, some examples of businesses that commonly offer Internet access are libraries, airports, hotels, schools, universities and many more locations. Many cities even have entirely become WiFi® hotspots, offering broadband service throughout most of the city itself, and there are even more cities that are becoming WiFi® hotspots today.

Internet access at a wifi hotspot is often free, but not always.
Internet access at a wifi hotspot is often free, but not always.

When a user with a wireless device is in a WiFi® hotspot, there are two ways that services can be offered. The more popular of these is by using an open public network, where anyone with wireless access can utilize the service. Alternately, closed public networks use what is called a hotspot management system that only offers the services to users who pay for minutes or have access through a membership. Once logged in, a user can do just about anything they could do on the Internet at home: check e-mail, surf the web, do business on their corporate website, and more, although some of the closed public networks can also limit what is available through their WiFi® access point.

Discussion Comments


@fBoyle-- I agree with you. Many places have WiFi hotspots now but most of them require a password. Some places give the password freely or allow access if you agree to the terms and conditions. But places like college campuses don't allow access to non-students and non-teachers. One has to go through a process to sign up as a guest user and that's usually for a limited time.

I don't know why internet is still a private property. I wish WiFi hotspots were everywhere and free nation-wide. I know it's not feasible right now, but maybe one day it will be.


@fBoyle-- Some hotels and airports do have free WiFi hotspots. It may be located in only one part of the airport though. So next time, you should ask airport employees about this. I did use the internet at an airport last week, but I had to go to a particular section.


I can't believe that I have to pay to access WiFi hotspots in hotels and in the airport. I think it's terribly annoying. We're already paying to stay at the hotel or to fly, so why are they forcing us to pay for internet access?

I have to have internet access on my phone or a portable WiFi modem on my laptop in order check my emails at the airport. I spend a lot of time at airports and I think I'm going to give in and start paying for it. Our lives depend on internet now and I think that everyone should have access to it.

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    • Hotels commonly offer WiFi® hotspots.
      By: diego cervo
      Hotels commonly offer WiFi® hotspots.
    • Internet access at a wifi hotspot is often free, but not always.
      By: arenaphotouk
      Internet access at a wifi hotspot is often free, but not always.
    • Some people use a mobile hotspot when on the road.
      By: witthaya
      Some people use a mobile hotspot when on the road.