Hotspots are a commonly used term, but often misunderstood. We take a look at hotspots here so you can understand what they are, and why they matter.
When you hear someone talking about a hotspot, it is easy to think they literally mean a warm part of the ground. However, in connectivity terms, a hotspot means something entirely different. Typically, you get two major kinds of hotspot: Wi-Fi and mobile hotspot. In this article, we will take a brief look at both so you understand what they are and why they matter.
A Wi-Fi hotspot is a location where you can connect to a Wi-Fi connection using a wireless local area network (LAN) (WLAN). Hotspots within Wi-Fi are just places where you can connect to the internet – they can be private or public. Your Wi-Fi at home is technically a hotspot; so is the public Wi-Fi that your local café offers.
Most public Wi-Fi services are free but tend to be somewhat insecure compared to an in-house, private connection. Paid Wi-Fi in public is usually more secure but not as secure as an at-home or private connection.
There are several benefits to using a Wi-Fi hotspot, mainly that it can be free at the point of use. If you need to do some browsing when sitting around in a public place, this can save you using your own monthly data allowance. Public Wi-Fi is also useful for online and/or freelance people, as they can work from a more public setting.
Of course, the public Wi-Fi problem is that it tends to be unreliable and unsecured. Sharing any private information over a public Wi-Fi connection is not recommended whatsoever!
They also tend to be rife with advertisements (which help cover the cost of the Wi-Fi, to be fair) and inconsistent speeds. If you are looking for a reliable and secure Wi-Fi hotspot, you should probably focus on using private connections.
Most public Wi-Fi hotspots are unsecured and have little to no encryption on what is being sent across the network. As such, savvy thieves can easily plunder information, you send to the public Wi-Fi. This leads to security risks whether you send corporate or sensitive, private information to a colleague, friend, or family member.
The other main kind of hotspot you will hear about are mobile hotspots. These are locations that are created on-the-fly using your mobile device’s data. This allows you to use your smartphone's data connection to connect another device, such as your PC or laptop, to the internet. In most cases, this is also known as tethering.
This is advantageous if your internet stops working and you need to get online. Say you need to upload a file – a document to a client, an assessment, or anything at all. You can get online and upload the document by turning your mobile device into a temporary router. You can usually support up to ten different devices on a mobile hotspot, too, though keep in mind this will burn through your internet mobile data at an alarming rate.
Unless you have unlimited data contracts, this can become quite expensive. Mobile hotspots are extremely useful as a temporary solution to send something. You do not need a SIM card or anything; you need mobile data.
The negative, though, is that your mobile hotspot will fail if you are in a location where you have no cellular service. This means you cannot use it in a remote location where you cannot make phone calls. If you do not have mobile network coverage in a certain location, you cannot tether. The other limit is that you typically will find that speeds are drastically lower than you get with a typical internet connection.
Most of the time, you will be used to a 4/5G connection; in many places, tethering is limited to only 3G connections. This is much slower and means that even basic document uploading and web browsing can be a prolonged experience.