New York City are working hard to improve access to the Internet for citizens, and one of the ways that they are doing this is using old ‘phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots. However, the ‘phone booths are not being converted into a traditional Wi-Fi hotspot as one might find in a local coffee shop, hotel lobby, airport or library, but instead, they’ll use a new Wi-Fi technology called Hotspot 2.0. The technology is currently being showcased and has offered fast download speeds in the region of 70 Mbps, thanks in part because of the limited availability of the technology but also because these new ‘phone booths are connected to the world wide web via a high performance fiber optic cabling system.
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Hotspot 2.0 technology is designed in a similar fashion to cellular networks. Before using, a customer must first download a small profile file. This profile simply allows the Wi-Fi network to identify your device and once installed, the device can log in to new Wi-Fi hotspots as it comes into range without customer involvement. Currently, the New York City Hotspot 2.0 technology is only compatible with the iPhone, but the technology is supported by Android and has been commercially available for come time now. It is already being used by a number of Wi-Fi operators including AT&T and Time Warner Cable. New York City’s plans call for five hundred ‘phone booths to be converted into Hotspot 2.0 sites by the summer.
The advantage of free, high performance Wi-Fi networking will be obvious to anybody who has tried to use the Internet over a busy, congested cellular data network: it can be painful to watch as file attachments stall when being downloaded, or the Tweet you are trying to send is still waiting to go. It can be especially disappointing if you are paying a lot of money to your cellular provider for a data allowance. Carriers are certainly working on boosting their urban networks and if more customers are able to offload their data use to Wi-Fi rather than LTE this is also going to help things. However, using Wi-Fi Hotspot 2.0 technology has other important advantages too, in that the technology is more secure than an open public Wi-Fi hotspot. For a start, it uses the same encryption technology as a private, home or office based, Wi-Fi hotspot, although given the scale and visibility of a system such as the New York City Wi-Fi technology, in the words of Mark Wuergler, a security professional from Immunity Inc: “An attack is inevitable on New York City’s system. It is too big of a trophy.” CityBridge, the operator, explained it has a team of security experts working to keep things safe. However, there are a number of things that we as Wi-Fi users can do to make things safer online.
One of the things that we can do is make sure when using a web browser and working with personal, sensitive information, we make sure it is a secure site: look for “https” in the address bad along with a padlock symbol. This shows that the site is secured; no padlock, no secure website. We can also set up a VPN (virtual private network), which is essentially an encrypted connection from our device to the Internet via a remote server. VPNs are designed to provide a regulated and secure connection online and are commonplace in industry. For our Android devices, there are a number of VPN clients available (such as HotSpot Shield). Another trick is to remove all public, unencrypted (or open) Wi-Fi networks, as these can be spoofed by a hacker.
However, the golden message concerns passwords: using a different, secure password for each and every service that we sign into is an essential part of keeping our information secure and private. This can also be combined with a two-factor authentication system such that should our password be compromised, the hacker also needs a text messaged code in order to access the account or information. More and more cities and local authorities have been setting up public Wi-Fi networks across the world as access to the Internet is seen as a ubitious requirement for urban life. It’s good to see New York City employing newer technologies in order to help keep citizens secure, and we will be watching the rollout of the converted ‘phone booths with interest over the coming months.