A Wi-Fi hotspot is a place that offers a wireless Internet connection to users of laptop computers. The wireless connection is provided by a wireless router, which transmits data between users' computers and servers on the Internet, as shown in the diagram.
Where Hotspots are Found
Wi-Fi hotspots can be found in a variety of places. Cafés are one common location. People can take their laptops to a café and eat or drink while working and checking email. Many hotels also have Wi-Fi hotspots with multiple routers, in essence creating multiple hotspots, to provide Internet access to the entire hotel. Multiple routers are often necessary because the range of one router is not enough to cover each floor of the hotel.
Wi-Fi hotspots may require payment for use, providing additional revenue to the hotspot's owner. Users who attempt to use the hotspot may be able to pay using a credit card on a small page hosted by the hotspot owner, or they may have to pay the hotspot owner directly to receive an access code. Often, this access code is simply the network's password, and users will not be able to connect to the network at all without it.
Other hotspots are free and require absolutely no payment to use. These typically take the form of "open networks," wireless networks that are not secured with a password. Users can simply connect to the network and begin using the Internet. It should be noted that not all open networks are free hotspots. Some hotels, for instance, use open networks that redirect users to a payment page.
It is not uncommon for people to use a wireless router at home to provide themselves with wireless Internet access. Often, these are protected by a password. Sometimes, however, these connections are unsecured. When this is the case, anyone with a wireless-equipped laptop can connect to the unsuspecting person's network and use the Internet. This may have unpleasant consequences for the owner of the network, such as extra charges on their Internet bill.
Wi-Fi hotspots are sometimes targeted by hackers. Hackers who gain access to a Wi-Fi hotspot may be able to intercept the transmissions of other users, potentially revealing sensitive data, such as credit card numbers.