Contrary to popular belief, a WiFi hotspot isn’t a device but a location. More specifically, it’s an area where people may obtain internet access using WiFi technology. This area of wireless internet access is typically created using a wireless router connected to an internet service provider.
Most people these days have WiFi hotspots at home to connect various internet-enabled devices and appliances to the internet without physical cables. Many businesses and organizations create hotspots to attract foot traffic and gain a competitive edge.
According to Statista, an online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal, there was 179 million of public WiFi hotspots worldwide in 2017. This number is forecasted to grow to 542 millions by 2021. The steep rise of the number of available public WiFi hotspots highlights our hunger for internet access and our preference for businesses and organizations that offer it for free.
WiFi hotspots are either free or paid, and they employ various security protocols to mitigate security risks posed by malicious hackers. It’s paramount to avoid using unsecured WiFi hotspots. Such hotspots can be recognized by the absence of strong WiFi password validation procedures.
Unsecured hotspots are a common target of cybercriminals, and some cybercriminals even deploy such hotspots themselves to capture passwords and other sensitive information of those who connect to them.
You should never connect to a WiFi hotspot that doesn’t use at least the WPA security protocol. This protocol has been available since 2003 as a successor to the previous system, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which is now considered to be insufficiently secure.
Ideally, you should only connect to WiFi hotspots secured with WPA2 because it supports an AES-based encryption mode to provide strong security. Soon, there will also be WiFi hotspots with WPA3, which uses 192-bit encryption and individualized encryption for each user.
This latest WiFi security standard was announced in January 2018, and it will, in addition to other things, mitigate security issues posed by weak passwords and simplify the process of setting up devices with no display interface, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.
The good news is that free WiFi hotspots are everywhere these days. Most coffee shops, shopping malls, and businesses offer a free WiFi hotspot to attract foot traffic, but the problem is that simply typing “free WiFi hotspot near me” into Google Search doesn’t yield any useful results.
What you need to reliably find all free WiFi hotspots near you is a professional app for wireless site surveys, WiFi analysis, and troubleshooting such as NetSpot. With it, you can quickly find out which wireless networks are available around you and use your own judgment to determine which are free based on their names.
Finding WiFi hotspots with NetSpot is easy. You simply install it on any Windows or macOS computer with WiFi and click on the Discover button in NetSpot to switch to Discover Mode.
In this mode, NetSpot automatically collects every detail about all surrounding WiFi hotspots and presents the collected information in a readable fashion. You can see the name, security, and signal strength of each discovered WiFi hotspot, which helps you select the best one. Besides Discover Mode, NetSpot also features an in-depth network analysis mode: Survey Mode.
You can also find WiFi hotspots without NetSpot using the tools built into your mobile device or computer, but don’t expect to get nearly as comprehensive information as you can get with NetSpot. Telling apart unsecured networks for secured ones is often problematic and discovering hidden WiFi hotspots may be impossible.
Most smartphones and laptops can be turned into a WiFi hotspot without any third-party application. The instructions how to do so vary from device to device, but the entire process typically involves only a couple of clicks.
Android: To turn your Android phone into a WiFi hotspot, go to Settings and tap the “Wireless & networks” option. There, look for an option called “Portable Wi-Fi hotspot,” and click on it to turn your device into a WiFi hotspot.
iOS: To turn your iPhone into a WiFi hotspot, go to Settingsand then Cellular. Tap on the “Personal Hotspot” option to turn your iPhone into a WiFi hotspot.
Windows: To turn your Windows laptop into a WiFi hotspot, use the Windows key + X keyboard shortcut, and select Command Prompt (Admin). In Command Prompt (Admin) enter: “NETSH WLAN set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=Your_SSID key=Your_Passphrase” (leave out the quotation marks). Then enter the following command to activate it: “NETSH WLAN start hostednetwork” (again, make sure to leave out the quotation marks).
macOS: To turn your Mac into a WiFi hotspot, go to System Preferences and click the Sharing icon. Select the “Internet Sharing” option and choose the Internet connection you want to share with the devices.
As you can see, it’s relatively straightforward to create WiFi hotspot on Mac/Windows as well as on mobile devices running Android and iOS. Just make sure to always secure your hotspot with strong encryption otherwise you might become a target of malicious hackers.