Q

Wi-Fi routers vs. hot spots

I had lunch with a couple of guys from wiDEFi Melbourne, Florida this week. I asked whether there is a market for hot spots, which they took the trouble of explaining are different from home Wi-Fi routers. I guess I do not see or appreciate the difference.
Wi-Fi products manufactured for residential use tend to be very low end. Some are simply wireless access points that bridge radio traffic to/from a wired Ethernet. But others are wireless routers -- that's usually an AP + a broadband router with basic packet filters + an embedded 4-port Ethernet switch. The premise is that these are all functions a typical home WLAN needs: connecting wireless stations to the Internet, deflecting outside attack from the Internet, and perhaps connecting a desktop PC or two via Ethernet.

Wi-Fi products manufactured for commercial hotspots tend to be much more sophisticated. They are often distributed systems that connect several access points to a central WLAN controller. The purpose of those APs is to provide radio coverage in a (perhaps large) public area. The purpose of the controller is to authenticate subscribers, usually through a web portal login page. Usage is logged to enable billing, and authentication requests are often relayed to a separate AAA server (like a RADIUS server) -- wherever subscriber records are located. Some hotspot devices can interface with wireless roaming organizations so that visitors can log in and be billed for services, even if they don't have an account with that individual hotspot. These are just a few of the advanced features that one finds in hotspot wireless APs, and they are of course functions that commercial service providers typically need but residential users don't.
This was first published in June 2003

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