The IEEE 802.11 (WiFi) wireless communication standard was invented for LANs. The first applications were in corporate office and meeting rooms. WiFi succeeded because:
As people became familiar with WiFi and equipment prices dropped, they began deploying "hotspots" in public areas. Hotspots were deployed in stores, restaurants, hotels, chains like Starbucks, airport lounges, etc. Some businesses charge for access and others are offer it free as a convenience for customers. The cost of a hotspot was low, and in many cases a business used their existing Internet connection for a backhaul connection to the Internet.
WiFi caught on, and the map on the left shows the WiFi access points in Manhattan by the summer of 2002.
Soon city governments began installing hotspots that covered open areas like parks or limited downtown districts. Outdoor hotspots are more difficult to create than those indoors because equipment must be weather proof and backhaul must be provided.
Google estimates the cost of a municipal network in Mountain View California, their headquarters city, at $1 million.
Hotspots are often installed by user groups and other volunteers. Active wireless users groups include: