A hotspot is a venue that offers Wi-Fi access. The public can use a laptop, WiFi phone, or other suitable portable device to access the Internet. Of the estimated 150 million laptops, 14 million PDAs, and other emerging Wi-Fi devices sold per year for the last few years, most include the Wi-Fi feature.
For venues that have broadband service, offering wireless access is as simple as purchasing one AP and connecting the AP with the gateway box.
Hotspots are often found at restaurants, train stations, airports, libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, fuel stations, department stores, supermarkets and other public places. Many universities and schools have wireless networks in their campus.
Most hotspots are unsecured. User data is shared as clear text as all users access the internet via the hotspot.
Some hotspots authenticate users. This does not secure the data transmission or prevent packet sniffers from allowing people to see traffic on the network.
Some venues offer VPN as an option, such as Google WiFi. This solution is expensive to scale.
Others such as T-mobile provide a download option that deploys WPA support specific to T-mobile. This conflicts with enterprise configurations at Cisco, IBM, HP, Google, and other large enterprises who have solutions specific to their internal WLAN.
A "poisoned hotspot" refers to a free public hotspot set up by identity thieves or other malicious individuals for the purpose of "sniffing" the data sent by the user. This abuse can be avoided by the use of VPN.