How do Wi-Fi Hotspots Work


Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots work similarly to the Wi-Fi hotspots in homes, offices, and other public premises. The hotspot offers a Wireless Access Point that connects directly with the other Wi-Fi enabled devices by utilizing radio signals. The Wireless..

Author: Collins Okoth
Author: Collins Okoth



A hotspot can be described as a locale or area that has an accessible wireless network. The term Wi-Fi hotspot is commonly used to refer to the available wireless connections in public places such as airports, restaurants, and coffee shops. Depending on your location, and provider,  some Wi-Fi hotspots are free, while others require payment to use. Whichever option is available, though, Wi-Fi hotspots are critical in modern life. They come in handy for those who need internet connectivity on the go, which essentially describes every single person with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer. 

Whenever you want to use one of these public Wi-Fi connections, or even the home wireless network, the first and most important thing is to ensure that your device can receive these transmissions. Most devices today are manufactured with inbuilt wireless transmitters. Wireless transmitters allow the devices to quickly set up Wi-Fi hotspots to be shared with other devices. Almost all modern laptops and smartphones are Wi-Fi enabled. Similarly, they come with wireless transmitters that allow for the creation and setting up of a wireless network.

Unfortunately, not everyone has these latest devices with the ability to create and receive wireless networks. If you are in this category, there is some good news for you — the wireless adapter. A wireless adapter is a digital device that can be purchased separately and connected to your computer to allow your computer to receive and create a wireless network signal. A wireless adapter, in most cases, is plugged into a USB port; however, some can also be plugged into the PC card slot. For desktop computers (which are the most affected devices), you can purchase a wireless adapter that is plugged into the PCI slot located inside the system unit's casing. However, you can also get the USB adapters that plug directly into regular USB ports. 

After successfully installing the wireless adapter, you will need to install up-to-date drivers that will enable the operating system to interact with the hardware device and issue instructions to it. Drivers are ordinarily downloadable from the internet by a simple search. However, good and recommended drivers are usually available on the official website of the manufacturer of the wireless adapter you purchased. Once this is done, your computer should be able to automatically detect wireless networks present in your area.Your computer should be able to notify you every time it detects a wireless network around. It will then prompt you to connect to it. Let me mention that, if your computer a little too old and the OS is not up to date, you may need to use third-party software like Connectify to create and connect to wireless networks.

Hotspots have become so relevant today, that many devices and operating systems for computers and smartphones come with the feature. Not so long ago, Windows Operating Systems were not able to natively create and share a cellular network via a Wi-Fi hotspot. However, currently, Windows 10 comes with the ability to set up and share Wi-Fi networks effortlessly. This capability enables windows users to share the same internet connection say via Ethernet, with friends, family, and coworkers within a certain radius. For the Windows 10 version that I am currently running, the hotspot setting page looks like this: 

How do Wi-Fi  Hotspots Work

A General Understanding of How the Wi-Fi Hotspot Technology Works

In the eyes of a regular computer user, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots are the same as wireless router connections commonly used in homes and offices. In any case, both networks are wireless access points with the ability to provide internet access to devices connected to the specific network. This makes them very similar. The Wi-Fi hotspot technology majorly comprises a portable device called a router, that is usually configured by the ISP (private or public) for wireless internet access. In most cases, the Wi-Fi hotspot provider sets up the configuration by use of an internet connection provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Usually, hotspots communicate only with digital devices that have the capability of receiving Wi-Fi signals. This communication is facilitated by radio signals, which primarily transmit the internet connection from ISPs to the devices that are connected to the network. This typically translates to multiple devices connected to a single wireless network created by a router, computer, mobile phone, or tablet that is connected to the ISP. Below is an image of a router that converts Ethernet cable internet to a wireless network. 

How do Wi-Fi  Hotspots Work

When the Wi-Fi hotspot is located in a specific location, in public, say a restaurant, it is meant for multiple people in that area. Everyone within the appropriate range can connect to the Wi-Fi network using the configurations provided. For portable devices like mobile phones, the Wi-Fi hotspots created with these are often private and used by a small group of people who know each other or even a single person.

Similarly, Wi-Fi hotspots are equally available via your regular wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and many others. Such wireless services are usually offered to customers by the use of towers. These towers transmit wireless radio signals directly to your mobile phones and computers. When you find yourself within the range of a particular tower, you are considered to be in a Wi-Fi hotspot region. It means that you can automatically connect your device to the internet. In modern times, your provider can also give you a mobile hotspot device. These mobile hotspot devices provide a different kind of hotspot from your regular cellular carrier.

Types of Wi-Fi Hotspots 

As mentioned earlier, a Wi-Fi hotspot was considered to be a public spot that has a collection of routers that enable users to the internet wirelessly. In recent times, more and more wireless-equipped devices are being released to the market.  Similarly, there is an increase in internet access provided by wireless carriers such as T- Mobile and Verizon. For these reasons, the meaning of a Wi-Fi hotspot has mutated over time to capture more possibilities in practice today. Here are the types of Wi-Fi hotspots today. 

Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

These, as the name suggests, are Wi-Fi hotspots found in a public place. Owners of a public area, say a coffee shop, is responsible for setting up the configuration and making the details available to users (in most cases, customers). In today's society, this type of Wi-Fi hotspot has become an essential marketing strategy. Most businesses use public Wi-Fi hotspots to attract customers due to the rise in demand for internet connectivity for users. This type of hotspot is common in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, public transportation, among others.

Phone Mobile Hotspots

Often when public Wi-Fi is not available in the vicinity, people opt to use the connectivity provided by the cellular networks. Almost all devices equipped with a cellular service currently can access the internet via a 3G or 4G connection. In this case, all that is required to connect to the internet is a nearby tower that transmits signals from your wireless carrier.

Sometimes you may need to set up your personal mobile hotspot to connect another device or a friend's network to your internet-enabled device. This type of configuration only allows for specified devices to connect to your network connection. For example, you may have a connection on your mobile device, and you need an internet connection on your laptop. You can set up a mobile hotspot to allow your computer to use your phone's internet connectivity. In android, this is what the hotspot set up screen looks like:

How do Wi-Fi  Hotspots Work



Mobile Hotspot Devices

Nowadays, when purchasing a cellular contract, most of the wireless carriers provide portable hotspot devices alongside. The portable mobile devices enable you to access the internet from anywhere provided you can receive a signal from the wireless carrier. These devices will allow you to connect multiple devices to your preferred mobile network. Be it a laptop, a mobile phone, or a hybrid device; you can always connect to the internet once your mobile hotspot device is active.

Any Security Concerns about my Wi-Fi Hotspot?

Practically all Wi-Fi hotspots come with some sort of encryption, commonly Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or (Wi-Fi Protected Access) WPA encryption plus a password for security. This implies that your hotspot is generally safe from any interference from nearby unauthorized users. However, most people don't bother to set complex passwords. You find most Wi-Fi hotspot passwords are digits, either phone numbers or 12345678, or something close to that. Actually, I am a victim; if you check the screenshot above on Windows, my Wi-Fi hotspot password is 12345678. What a shame!! These types of passwords are easy to crack and could be the cause of a security loophole for most users. 

However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that many public Wi-Fi hotspots aren't safe. Since most of the hotspots do not require a password, the data transmitted through the network is also not encrypted.  This means that your sensitive data could be at some risk when connected to such systems. This risk applies to data transmitted via the network and data stored on your device while using the Wi-Fi. For encrypted networks, there are different technologies like WEP-which is arguably the oldest and least secure, WPA, which is moderately safe but is slowly being phased out. Currently, WPA2 is the technology that is considered to offer the highest level of security.

 

Conclusion

Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots work similarly to the Wi-Fi hotspots in homes, offices, and other public premises. The hotspot offers a Wireless Access Point that connects directly with the other Wi-Fi enabled devices by utilizing radio signals. The Wireless Access Point is often connected to the internet plus a router. The router is meant to control access to the Wi-Fi. Today, almost all manufactured internet devices are able to communicate via a wireless network. For those that do not have this ability, there are third party devices like wireless adapters that can be integrated to enable wireless connectivity.