What are hotspots, where can you find them, and how can you connect to them while maintaining your privacy and security? WiFi hotspots are internet access points that enable you to connect to a WiFi network when away from your home or business network using your computer, smartphone, or another device.
How do WiFi hotspots work?
A public WiFi hotspot is similar to a WiFi network at home or work. Hotspots broadcast an internet connection using specialized wireless equipment, resulting in the creation of a WiFi network to where you can connect a tablet, smartphone, computer, or other device to access the internet. Any physical location where individuals can access the Internet via a wireless local area network (WLAN) with a router linked to an Internet service provider (ISP) is a hotspot.
You can generally find a hotspot in a private or public setting, such as a café, a hotel, an airport, or even on board an airplane. While many public hotspots provide free wireless connectivity over an open network, some charge for this service. Depending on where you are, the range, strength, speed, and pricing of a WiFi hotspot may differ.
WiFi hotspot types
In spite of the fact that WiFi hotspots are generally the same, there are several different types that exist, each with its own set of characteristics.
Public WiFi hotspot
Coffee shops, for example, can operate as public hotspot locations. Hotspots are quite widespread in coffee shops, allowing its customers to use their wireless devices to browse the internet while they are in the establishment.
In addition, places like libraries, hotels, retail stores, airports, and even on airplanes might offer their patrons free Wifi connections. The majority of public WiFi hotspots are free, although in certain locations (such as hotels and airports), you may be charged.
Connecting to a Public WiFi Network
Press the WiFi icon or the corresponding button on your web-enabled device to open the Wi-Fi application. On a laptop, this function is usually found on the taskbar along the bottom. The Wi-Fi program may be labeled “Internet Access” or something similar when it is highlighted with the cursor. Open the application by clicking once.
Double click one of the available connections that will appear in a list on the screen. Many Wi-Fi programs include a visual representation of the wireless connection’s signal strength, so select the strongest available signal.
You have to check the box next to the “Terms of Agreement” or similar language that may appear on a web page that gives access to the specific Wi-Fi connection and then click the “I Accept” button. This will enable Internet access on a laptop or other device.
Mobile WiFi hotspot
A feature that few people use is the capacity to transform a smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot, which is hidden inside almost every smartphone. When you enable this option, your phone will establish a WiFi hotspot using its cellular data.
With a couple of bars of signal strength, you can connect your tablet or laptop to the internet using your mobile phone as a hotspot (also known as Wi-Fi tethering). The process of setting up a smartphone as a hotspot varies depending on your service provider and your smartphone, but you can usually find instructions in the Settings or Manage Connections menus on your phone.
Connecting to the Internet has the downside that the very technologies that help us stay productive and manage our lives can also be a target for hackers and identity thieves. Public hotspots can use a variety of security methods to protect your data. Always connect your smartphone or laptop to a reputable service provider when searching for a public Wi-Fi hotspot – a hotel’s or coffee shop’s wireless network, for example.
As a general guideline, you should avoid doing anything on a public WiFi connection that might expose secure personal data, such as checking out on shopping sites (giving payment information), using banking applications, or viewing medical records.
Through an unprotected Wi-Fi connection, it is also possible for hackers to send malware (software that can harm or disable your computer) to you, especially if you are using a file-sharing application on the same network as the Wi-Fi connection. Other activities, such as browsing the web, checking email and using social media, are usually safe on public WiFi hotspots.
Finding WiFi hotspots
You can find WiFi hotspots by opening your computer or tablet and checking the available networks list. It is not uncommon to find open, public WiFi hotspots in many public areas where you can connect for free. Your own ISP may also provide WiFi hotspots.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
If you’re concerned about the security of joining a public Wi-Fi hotspot, set up a virtual private network (VPN), which allows you to access to the Internet over an encrypted connection. While this can prevent hackers since your data is encrypted, be aware that the processing power necessary to encrypt and decrypt your transmitted data can slow down your Internet connection.