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Wireless hotspots originate from both small and large networks that have installed a wireless router and have Internet access and have left the wireless or “wifi” port open for public connectivity. Many networks have all three requirements, from John Q. Public’s computer room, to the business center in town. Wireless hotspots are therefore generated from a multitude of sources, sometimes unintentionally.
Once installed, a wireless router broadcasts connectivity by default to the surrounding area. In most cases this area exceeds the confines of the network’s physical address extending into the immediate surrounding environment. Anyone who enters the signal’s radius with a wireless receiver can gain connectivity.
To block public access one can configure the router to require an encrypted password or handshake with each computer that requests information from it. If the connecting computer does not supply the correct password, access is denied. The hotspot still exists, but it is no longer publicly available. It has become a private hotspot instead, more commonly known as a closed network or closed port.
Many wireless hotspots are advertised for public use, such as when a city provides access from a central municipal network as a perk to the community. To use the hotspot, one only has to drive to that section of the city where the signal is strong. This might be outside the City Hall or a landmark building — wherever the physical network is located. More commonly advertised wireless hotspots are located in Internet cafés and bookstores, sometimes called wired cafes.
However, many wireless hotspots are not advertised because they are not primarily intended for public use, but for business or private use. In some cases the proprietors of the network (including individuals at home) don’t mind passersby using their networks as wireless hotspots, and might even consider it a kind of “freebie gift” to anyone that happens upon it. In other cases people simply don’t realize their wireless networks are “leaking” into the immediate environment through open ports, and once it becomes clear that the public is accessing the Internet through the network, ports are often closed.
Since wireless hotspots can originate from just about anywhere within a populated area, business districts to neighborhoods, the easiest way to find access is by using a mobile wifi scanning card. These cards typically plug into a laptop port and scan radio waves in relevant bands, searching for wireless hotspots. The cards will report the name of the network, signal strength, and whether or not access requires a password, among other data. By following cues you can maneuver as close as possible to the source of the signal before parking to gain access. The stronger the signal strength the greater the reliability and data transfer rates.