A wireless access point, or hotspot, is a location that broadcasts a wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) signal for consumers to access with mobile devices like computers and smartphones. This is accomplished by using a network adapter that sends out an unprotected signal with a certain radius that anyone can use, and often this service is provided free of charge. When a device that can use the wireless access point recognizes the incoming signal, it then has the option to connect and access the Internet without using any other type of service plan. Newer innovations also allow consumers to create their own wireless access point through their cellular carrier.
There are many wireless access points available for consumers to use worldwide, with hotspots located inside restaurants, hotels, and other types of businesses. A wireless router is installed within each of these locations that takes an incoming Internet connection and broadcasts it through the air. Consumers who come within range of the signal can then use that connection to access the web, download files and folders, or send messages without using their own plan's coverage.
Other types of wireless access points have restrictions placed on them and are not considered free to the public. Corporate businesses often use this technology to allow employees to work at wireless workstations since it saves on installation and maintenance costs. This approach requires a network administrator to oversee the computers that are connected within the network and each wireless access point can be given a number of privileges in regards to accessing the Internet. For example, employees can be given unlimited access to company websites and other vendors that would frequently be used, but blocked from all other content without additional permission.
Another type of wireless access point is established by a consumer through his or her cellular service. This method requires a portable wireless network adapter that can convert the incoming cellular signal into a Wi-Fi hotspot that other devices can connect to. Although the connection speed is normally limited while using this method, it still works well for downloading smaller files or tasks like checking email.
Some utility companies are also in the process of implementing a wireless access point through industrial power and telephone lines, which essentially makes an entire city an Internet hotspot. Since the signal is carried within the wiring itself, this implementation means that the entire area stays connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. Due to the costs involved in such a project, it may be a long time before this type of wireless access point is available worldwide.