Well, I don't think you really want to be a hotspot but perhaps you might want to put one up so others could use it.
If you run any kind of small business, this might make a great deal of sense. By way of comparison, Schlotzsky's, Inc., which runs deli restaurants, has stated that adding free Wi-Fi to its shops adds more than $100,000 revenue for each store per year (through added purchasing by customers who come to the store for the Wi-Fi hotspot, or who stay longer than they otherwise would).
You might also want to put up a Wi-Fi hotspot simply as a service to your fellow humans (believe it or not, this kind of altruism has largely sparked the growth of Wi-Fi!).
The technical aspects of putting up a Wi-Fi hotspot, meaning the hardware infrastructure required, don't differ that much from putting up a Wi-Fi network for personal or business use. To start with, you need a broadband connection. If you are planning to resell access via a Wi-Fi hotspot, most cable and DSL providers will require you to buy a commercial-grade account (rather than a personal use account).
For more information about putting together a Wi-Fi network, see Part IV, "Creating a Wi-Fi Network." If you are interested, I've provided some material showing the architecture of a public hotspot (which might be part of a private network) in Chapter 15, "Configuring Your Wi-Fi Network."
The problem is not the hardware so much as what is called, in the telecommunications business, provisioning. Provisioning means setting up the systems that provide customer service, support, and billing.
You'll want to consider provisioning issues even if you plan to give away Wi-Fi access for free. This is because it is dangerous to allow unrestricted access to your network. If access to your network does not require registration, it could be used for malicious purposes, for example, spamming, which could get your Internet address blacklisted.
Hosting a Wi-Fi hotspot can lead to serious security risks. Even if you are not charging for access, at the very least, you should probably consider instituting a user authentication scheme. For more information about security, check out Chapter 19, "Securing Your Wi-Fi Network."
Some of the national Wi-Fi network providers discussed in Chapter 12 will provide basic support and protection for IP address abuse for a reasonable fee. If you are interested in this, you should check out Surf and Sip, www.surfandsip.com, which specializes in Wi-Fi enabled hotspots for providers who want to give access away for free.
If selling access is more your cup of tea (or Java), there are any number of companies that sell turnkey packages. Generally, you purchase the hardware from the company, which then provides provisioning services, and splits the proceeds from billing using an agreed-upon percentage.
One turnkey provider of this sort is Pacific Wi-Fi, www.pacificwi-fi.com. Another similar product is Instant Hotspot from Advanced Internet Access (see www.instanthotspot.com/wsg5000.htm for more information).
When you have your Wi-Fi hotspot up, your problem is the reverse of the one primarily discussed in this chapter. You don't need to find a hotspot you need people to find your hotspot. If you don't get the word out, no one will know about it. A hotspot that has not been promoted has a place in the world like that proverbial tree that falls in the forest if no one knows it has fallen, what is the point? (Or is it even real?)
A Wi-Fi hotspot is termed open when it is not encrypted. This means you do not have to supply an encryption key, which for all the world looks and acts like a password. An example of an open hotspot is the T-Mobile Hotspot hosts, which require an SSID but not an encryption key (you also have to log on to the T-Mobile network with your T-Mobile user ID and password, but that's a different issue).
A Wi-Fi hotspot is closed when an encryption key is required to access the node. All private Wi-Fi networks should be run in closed mode.
Wi-Fi encryption is accomplished using WEP (Wireless Equivalency Protocol), a security measure that is part of the 802.11 and Wi-Fi standards. I'll explain WEP further in Chapter 19.
An essential first step in promoting your new hotspot is to make sure it appears in the directories described earlier in this chapter.
Of course, after you put up your hotspot you could "war chalk" it yourself using the standard symbols explained later in this chapter. (Traditionally, these symbols are chalked on the sidewalk, but they could also go on a permanent sign.) In a heavily trafficked area, a simple sign that says "Wi-Fi Hotspot" would probably also draw traffic.