Wireless Network Administration: Hotspots

A hotspot is an area that has wireless networking available to the public. The first public hotspots were in airports and hotels, where business travelers could connect to the Internet with their laptop computers to pick up e-mail while on the road. Soon libraries jumped on the bandwagon, providing Internet access to anyone who brings a wireless-equipped laptop into the library.

Lately, restaurants and trendy coffee houses have been providing wireless hotspots so that you can stream music and video or play an online game while sipping a vanilla latte. Starbucks is probably the best-known trendy hotspot, but many others are joining in. For example, many Schlotzsky’s Deli locations have free hotspot access. And even McDonald’s is equipping many of its restaurants with hotspots. Bookstores like Barnes & Noble also provide access.

If you’re puzzled about why so many businesses are getting into the hotspotting business, the following paragraphs offer some of the most common reasons:

  • To increase traffic and, therefore, business. For example, the CEO of Schlotzsky’s Deli has said that free Internet access results in 15,000 additional visits to each store every year. And those people who come in simply to use the free Internet access usually buy something, even if it’s just a soda and a bag of chips.

  • To identify the business as hip or trendy.

  • To make money directly from the hotspot. Note that just because a business charges for its wireless access doesn’t mean it is making a significant amount of money from it. Some must charge fees to help cover the costs because they can’t justify the expense of commercial-quality broadband access simply on the basis of good will and a little increased traffic.

To simplify the connection process, most hotspots — both free and fee-based — disable the security features that are available for wireless networks. As a result, you should take some basic precautions when you use a public hotspot:

  • Make sure that you have a firewall installed and running. If you don’t have a separate firewall program, enable the Windows Firewall that’s built in to Windows.

  • Disable file sharing on your laptop computer.

  • Avoid sites that ask for confidential information but don’t use the secure HTTPS protocol.

  • Use a VPN if you plan on accessing your company’s network.

  • Disconnect from the wireless network when you’re finished using it.