WiFi hotspots

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:
  • the equipment does not require a license to operate
  • standardization allowed many competing manufacturers to enter the market
As prices fell, people who saw wireless LANs at work soon began using WiFi to build LANs in their homes as well.

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.

There are many public hot spots. You may be able to find one near your home by searching here or here.

Hotspots are often installed by user groups and other volunteers. Active wireless users groups include:

Today a number of cities have plans for city-wide hotspots. These cities see Internet connectivity as an appropriate municipal service like sewers, streets, sidewalks, etc. Not surprisingly, DSL and Cable ISPs argue that Internet connectivity should be left to the private sector. They feel cities have an unfair tax advantage and would not be as efficient as they are. Even if we all end up with fiber connections to our homes, we are seeing a battle over who will own the infrastructure.