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A hotspot is a site that offers Internet access over a wireless local area network (WLAN) through the use of a router connected to a link to an Internet service provider. Hotspots typically use Wi-Fi technology.
Hotspots may be found in coffee shops and various other public establishments in many developed urban areas throughout the world.
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. 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 that 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, American Airlines, and Hilton Hotels. 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.
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.
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 an Hotspot, with unknown security measures, is end-to-end encryption An example of strong end-to-end encryption is HTTPS. An example for a strong one is SSH.
Hotspots are often found at restaurants, train stations, airports, libraries, hotels, hospitals, coffee shops, bookstores, fuel stations, department stores, supermarkets, RV parks and campgrounds, public pay phones, and other public places. Many universities and schools have wireless networks in their campus.
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Free hotspots operate in two ways:
- Using an open public network is the easiest way to create a free HotSpot. All that is needed is a Wi-Fi router. Private users of wireless routers can turn off their authentication requirements, thus opening their connection, intentionally or not, for sharing by anyone in range.
- Closed public networks use a HotSpot Management System to control the HotSpot. This software runs on the router itself or an external computer. With this software, operators can authorize only specific users to access the Internet, and they often associate the free access to a menu or to a purchase limit. Operators are also now able to limit each user's available bandwidth - each user is therefore restricted to a certain speed to ensure that everyone gets a good quality service. Often this is done through service-level agreements.
A commercial hotspot may feature:
- A captive portal / login screen that users are redirected to for authentication and payment
- A payment option using credit card, PayPal, iPass, or other payment service
- A walled garden feature that allows free access to certain sites
- Service-oriented provisioning to allow for improved revenue
Many services provide payment services to hotspot providers, for a monthly fee or commission from the end-user income. ZoneCD is a Linux distribution that provides payment services for hotspots who wish to deploy their own service. Amazingports can be used to set up hotspots that intend to offer both for fee and free internet access.
Major airports and business hotels are more likely to charge for service. Most hotels provide free service to guests; and increasingly, small airports and airline lounges offer free service.
Roaming services are expanding among major hotspot service providers. With roaming service the users of a commercial provider can have access to other provider's hotspots with extra fees, in which such a user will be usually charged on the basis of access-per-minute.
Many Wi-Fi adapters built into or easily added to consumer computers include the functionality to operate as hotspots. Manufacturers can enable this functionality through driver-level support. Modern consumer operating systems, including Windows Vista and later and Apple OS X 10.6 and later added features to support this. Third-party software vendors, offer applications to allow users to operate their own Hotspot, whether to share an existing connection or extend the range of another hotspot.
Also known as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, Hotspot 2.0 is a new 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. The intention is to provide better bandwidth and services-on-demand to end-users, whilst also alleviating mobile carrier infrastructure of traffic overheads.
Hotspot 2.0 is based on the IEEE 802.11u standard, which is a new set of protocols 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.
The so-called "User-Fairness-Model " 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).
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):
- Data [UP 0|2]
- Video [UP 5|4]
- Audio [UP 7|6]
If the net traffic increases, then the frames of the particular access category (AC) are assigned a low priority value (e.g. video UP 5 to UP 4). This is also, if the data transfer is not time-critical.
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, Wi-Fi Alliance is developing a new hotspot program that aims to encrypt hotspot traffic with WPA2 security. The program is planned to launch in the first half of 2012.[dated info]
Providers of public hotspot access may incur legal obligations, including privacy requirements and liability for use for unlawful purposes, depending on the jurisdiction.
- Data Retention Directive Hotspot owners must retain key user statistics for 12 months.
- Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications
- Data Protection Act 1998 The hotspot owner must retain individual's information within the confines of the law.
- Digital Economy Act 2010 Deals with, amongst other things, Copyright infringement, and imposes fines of up to £250,000 for contravention.
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