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A Wi-Fi hotspot is a physical location where you can get internet access. You use a Wi-Fi connection on your phone or another device for this access.
There are free public Wi-Fi hotspots that are open for you to use in many locations now, including coffee shops and bookstores. Different public areas offer this service as a way to attract more customers. Sometimes free Wi-Fi is provided as an extra service to make the business stand out from the crowd.
Finding free Wi-Fi hotspots has gotten easier but can still be challenging, depending on the location. Keep reading our guide to finding free Wi-Fi hotspots to help make sure you have internet coverage wherever you go.
How to stay safe using free Wi-Fi hotspots
How to find free Wi-Fi hotspots
If you need free Wi-Fi access, you probably don’t have time to go from place to place searching for it. Knowing how to find free public access and where to look is the ticket to saving time and being more productive.
These methods will put you in the driver’s seat to find free public Wi-Fi hotspots fast.
Visit common free Wi-Fi locations
You’re probably already thinking of some locations near you that offer free Wi-Fi. Some of the usual suspects include:
- Coffee shops: These can be major chains like Starbucks, but your local coffee shop may also offer this service. Sometimes they don’t advertise it but will give you the password if you ask them for it.
- Fast food chains: McDonald’s and most other fast food chains offer free Wi-Fi to customers.
- Libraries: Most public libraries offer free public Wi-Fi. It helps give everyone in the community access to information.
- Restaurants: Even upscale restaurants sometimes offer free public Wi-Fi as a courtesy. People who travel for work need to eat, too, and a restaurant that offers free Wi-Fi may get more business than one that does not.
- Malls: These locations may be fewer now due to less traffic in many malls, but some still offer free public Wi-Fi.
- Public transportation: Depending on your location, you may commute daily and spend a lot of time on a bus or a train. Sometimes public transportation has wireless networks available.
- Gyms: Many gyms offer free Wi-Fi as a courtesy. For example, you might stream your Spotify workout playlist while you work out or even watch your favorite show. Some gyms come with cafes that offer smoothies and other drinks where you can also access the internet while you relax.
Download a Wi-Fi hotspot database app
You can use a portable Wi-Fi hotspot app to help you find free internet access. You can also use it to connect more than one device at a time. These apps will help you find free public Wi-Fi anywhere you go. Some stand out more than others because of their features.
- Wi-Fi Map is one of the largest global hotspot databases available. This app is great for traveling because it gives automatic alerts regarding the nearest hotspots and includes their passwords when available.
- Instabridge has millions of members who share Wi-Fi information for free public hotspots around the world. It boasts over 10 million hotspot passwords, and the number continues to grow. One of the features that set Instabridge apart is that it gives you the Wi-Fi login credentials of other members who want to help you by giving you access to their hotspot.
- Free WiFi Connect also finds free Wi-Fi near you. You can also block any Wi-Fi networks you don’t automatically want to be connected to. It has over 10 million downloads in the Google Play store and a 4.1 out of 5 average rating.
Use your phone’s internet connection
You can use your cell phone as a mobile hotspot. Setting your phone up to be a hotspot is simple, but the process may vary depending on your mobile device.
- Use a strong password to keep other people from using your hotspot
- Use a combination of characters, letters, and numbers.
- Steer clear from using things like your pet’s name or other words that people can easily guess.
If you have an Android device, set up your mobile hotspot with these steps:
- Open your Settings app.
- Find Network & internet, then choose Hotspot & tethering.
- Click “Wi-Fi hotspot.”
- Here you can turn your mobile hotspot on and off. You can also change your network name, password, and security type.
- Follow your phone’s instructions to customize your hotspot features.
- When you have chosen the features you want, toggle on Use Wi-Fi hotspot.
Your steps may vary depending on your phone’s manufacturer.
If you use an iPhone, you can set up a personal hotspot when you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi network.
- Go to Settings, then Personal Hotspot.
- Click the slider next to Allow Others to Join. It will turn green.
- If you have not used your phone as a mobile hotspot before, your carrier may have a generic Wi-Fi password included. To change the password to one of your choosing, tap the Wi-Fi Password toggle below Allow Others to Join.
- Choose a password that is at least eight characters long for best security.
Use a portable router
A portable router is helpful when you want to get online while on the go. When you need a solution that allows you to have Wi-Fi access wherever you are, a portable router can help. These devices increase the range of existing public Wi-Fi networks.
Having a portable Wi-Fi router is also great for locations where you have weak or slow internet access. You may be in a hotel that offers free Wi-Fi, but that doesn’t mean your connection won’t get dropped multiple times while using it. A portable router is compact and could potentially improve your internet speed and connection.
These portable routers aren’t free, so keep that in mind when looking at solutions. The costs can vary, but you’re looking at a broad range of $20 to $100. You can also get a portable router that works as a mobile hotspot, but you will pay more for that feature. These devices can cost around $200.
Popular travel routers to consider include:
Check with your internet service provider
Some internet service providers offer free access to Wi-Fi networks. Many of these will provide you with numerous hotspot locations, and you can access the ISP’s networks free of charge by logging in with your subscriber account credentials.
Depending on your internet service provider, you may be able to download their app and see all the nearby hotspots the ISP owns. For example, Comcast Xfinity offers free access to hotspots, which you can find on its website or by downloading its iOS or Android app.
How to stay safe using free Wi-Fi hotspots
When you use a free, open Wi-Fi hotspot, you aren’t as secure as you are when using your personal Wi-Fi. You won’t know who set up the network or who connects to it at any given time.
There are ways to stay safe and limit security issues, though.
- Use a VPN to help create a secure internet connection when using a public Wi-Fi network. That will help keep your information private and help keep internet hackers from getting your data.
- Choose well-known Wi-Fi networks like popular coffee shops or restaurants. The people who operate these companies want to keep you as a customer, so they’ll work to keep their network safe.
- If you use public Wi-Fi, make sure you use encrypted sites. These will begin with HTTPS, rather than the unsecured HTTP. When you access secure sites, people using the same network as you can’t see the data transmitted between you and the website server.
- Don’t use free, unsecured Wi-Fi for private, sensitive information such as credit card information or checking your bank balance.
- Don’t use numerous public Wi-Fi hotspots. The more you can narrow down the options, the fewer security risks you take. If you’ve found networks you can trust, sticking to those places is safer than using random networks.
How do I get free Wi-Fi in my car?
You can get free Wi-Fi in your car by using your smartphone as a hotspot or by using a portable modem or hotspot. Turning your phone into a mobile hotspot gives you free Wi-Fi access as long as your data plan supports that feature. You can also use a portable hotspot that goes wherever you go, giving you Wi-Fi connectivity.
How do I get free Wi-Fi at home?
You may be able to get free Wi-Fi access at home by using a program that helps lower-income families get internet access. Two of these programs are EveryoneOn.org and the Affordable Connectivity Program.
You may also be able to get free Wi-Fi at home by using a hotspot database app if you live in an area close to public Wi-Fi networks. These apps show you locations of the free public Wi-Fi networks nearby and include passwords that may not be publicly available.
Wi-Fi networks have been around for more than thirty years now. They haven’t always been as accessible to everyone as they are now. With that open accessibility also comes some security dangers, so it’s crucial to follow some safety protocols, like using the same public networks and considering a VPN for increased information privacy.
Learn more about navigating the internet safely.