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.
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.
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.