If you travel with your tablet and don’t have a 3G/4G capable device or a 3G/4G dongle then you are reliant on public WI-Fi connections known as public hotspots to connect to the Internet.
Many Phone users will often prefer to use public Wi-Fi hotspots to save on their Internet data allowance.
Wi-Fi Hotspots are found in offices/homes that use Wi-Fi, and in public locations like bars, hotels, airports and train stations.
There are several types of hotspot that you will come across:
- Private Network Hotspot – This is the coverage area of
your local wireless network or a network in a private home that you are visiting.
- Public Free Hotspot– Available for free in public spaces like coffee shops,train stations, hotels etc –
- Commercial Hotspots– Available in public spaces like coffee shops, hotels but require payment; usually via Paypal or credit card. They can also be provided by broadband providers as part of a Broadband Package. -See BT Wi-Fi
- Local Private Hotspots -These are provided by a device (normally mobile phone) that is used in a tethering arrangement. It allows devices that aren’t 3G/4G equipped to use the 3G/4G network vis a device that is.
- Fake Hotspots– This are setup by hackers, in the same way as local hotspots, but their purpose is to steal personal information sent over the Wi-Fi network. Many smart phones can be setup as an Hotspot, and this is useful feature. See Twin Hotspots Wiki
Private Network Hotspots and Local Private Hotspots are usually secure, but all others should be considered as insecure.
The Dangers of Public Wi-Fi Networks
Unsecured Public networks usually don’t require an encryption key to connect, but they may require a username/password (not normally) See BT Wi-Fi.
Public network hotspots found in coffee shops etc are vulnerable to various forms of attacks, and so it is important that you treat them as unsecured connections, and avoid accessing bank accounts, email etc when using them.
If you want to access personal information then you should always ensure that the connection is secured using a VPN or SSL connection.
Public secured networks will require access keys in order to connect, but that doesn’t make them secure. They are however usually more secure than open networks. See – Dangers of public wi-fi infographic
BT Wi-Fi and Wireless Community Networks
Most home Networks are using WI-FI Networks which are attached to the Internet using Broadband provided by a Broadband provider like BT.
Many have left their home networks open (unsecured) which means that anyone within range can access the Internet via their home wireless network.
Although some have done this due to lack of knowledge their are also many that have done this deliberately.
These types of access points have become known as Wireless community networks
Many broadband providers provide public Wi-fi access to their broadband customers by using this type of community network.
The BT WI-FI network consists of BT Broadband customers who allow other members access to a portion of their internet connection.
Because there are millions of BT broadband customers in the UK there are potentially millions of access points that aren’t limited to public locations like railway stations and airports.
From 2009 new customers to any BT broadband package were automatically opted in to this service.
This meant that their BT Home Hub/Router was serving as a access point, not only for the customers home network,,but also for other BT Wi-Fi users that are in range.
The benefit of allowing outside users access to your broadband connection, is that, in return you can access the Internet using other members broadband connections, which is really good for those who travel a lot, and need Internet access.
BT aren’t the only broadband provider that does this, and so it is worth checking your existing package to see if yours offers a similar service.
Note: this is becoming very common among broadband providers.
Connecting to a BT WiFi Hotspot
BT broadband customers who have opted-in to the BT WiFi program (or not opted out) are allowed unlimited access to the network and Non BT customers can purchase access packages.
When you are in range of a BT WiFi or BT WiFi-with-Fon hotspot then you select it from your WI-Fi network list, and click connect no username/password is required at this point.
To access the Internet open a web browser and you should be connected to the BT login page, if not go to www.btwifi.co.uk.
You then login using your BT broadband primary email address and password.
Leave this browser window open while you use the Internet.
Important – If you close it,you close the connection.
However any easier way is to use the BT Wi-Fi App as you don’t need to enter the username/password each time you access the network.
Here is a more comprehensive guide covering laptops and mobile devices.
Here is a screen shot of available networks that I saw, and was able to connect to when I was parked in a rural street.
You can see that even in rural locations Wi-Fi internet access is possible.
In fact this type of access works better in residential areas than in city/commercial areas.
Note: -Because the Network is unsecured you should treat it as any other public Wi-Fi network.
Locating Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
When traveling you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration if you know where there are public access points available.
Fortunately there are several free Apps available like Avast Wi-Fi Finder that will show you public hotspots in your location.
There is a new feature available in Android 5.1 and above on Google nexus phones and tablets called Wi-Fi assist which will automatically connect you to trusted public networks that are available.
Common Questions and Answers
Q- Is it safe to access my Email Over Public Wi-Fi?
A- it depends on your email provider and how you have configured the Email App- See Setting Up Email on Android.
Q- Is accessing my Gmail mail using the Gmail App secure over Public Wi-Fi?
A- Yes as it uses a secure connection (SSL) by default.
Q- I had to use a password to logon to the hotspot does that mean it is secure?
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are everywhere and are getting more and more common.
If you are doing anything private on your device e.g. checking email, when connected through a public hotspot then you should make sure the connection is using SSL.
On a web browser look for the padlock icon, usually nest to the address bar.
You might also see the web address starting with https as opposed to simple http.
https is http using SSL but this is not always visible in the address bar.
When using email Apps this is not obvious and so you should make sure that you set them up securely.
If you aren’t sure then treat anything that you are doing as public and act accordingly.
Related Articles and Resources
- Understanding Android Wi-Fi Connections and Settings
- Connect Tablet to 3G/4G Network Via Wi-Fi
- VPNs and Procy Servers for Internet Privacy