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How to Get Free WiFi Anywhere

Even though total public WiFi hotspots are forecast to grow sevenfold from 2015 to 2022, from 64.2 million in 2015 to 432.5 million by 2022, free WiFi hotspots are not always easy to find.
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  • Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting
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In this article, we describe five ways how to get free WiFi anywhere and with minimal effort to help you connect to the internet regardless of where life takes you.

What Is a WiFi Hotspot?

A WiFi hotspot is a term used to describe a physical location where you can obtain access to the internet over WiFi.

There are two main types of WiFi hotspots:

  • Public WiFi hotspots: As the name suggests, public WiFi hotspots are located in public areas, such as shopping malls, airports, and coffee shops. Public WiFi hotspots are typically set up to provide free WiFi access as a way of attracting customers, or they provide WiFi as an extra service, such as airlines do with inflight WiFi.
  • Private WiFi hotspots: These days, it’s difficult to find a business or household that doesn’t have a private WiFi hotspot set up to wirelessly connect devices such as smartphones, tablets, and smart home appliances to the internet. Private WiFi hotspots are by definition accessible only to those who are allowed to join the network, typically after providing the correct password.

When connecting to any WiFi hotspot, but especially those that are located in public places, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s fairly easy for malicious cybercriminals to remotely capture your wireless traffic to steal sensitive information from you.

That’s why you should only connect to WiFi hotspots that use the latest wireless security standards, such as WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3) to protect wireless traffic against snooping. Free WiFi simply isn’t worth getting your password stolen.

What’s the Difference Between WiFi and Hotspot

The terms WiFi and hotspot are sometimes used interchangeably but they actually refer to two different (albeit closely related) things. Here’s how each of these two terms is defined:

  • WiFi: a facility allowing computers, smartphones, or other devices to connect to the internet or communicate with one another wirelessly within a particular area.
  • Hotspot: a public place where a wireless signal is made available so that the internet can be accessed. You can find such places using WiFi finder apps.

In other words, WiFi is the technology that enables the creation of wireless networks, and hotspots are the places where these networks are accessible.

1. Share Your Smartphone’s Internet Connection

If you have a smartphone and a mobile data plan, you should be able to create a mobile WiFi hotspot to share your 3G or 4G connection with your other devices.

Android

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap the More button at the bottom of the Wireless & networks section.
  3. Select Tethering & portable hotspot.

Wi-Fi hotspot Android
Photo from www.gottabemobile.com

  1. Tap Set up Wi-Fi hotspot.
  2. Specify a network name and password and click Save.

Set up Wi-Fi hotspot Android
Photo from www.gottabemobile.com

  1. Turn on the Portable Wi-Fi hotspot option.

iOS

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Cellular.
  3. Tap Personal Hotspot.
  4. Tap the slider to turn it on.

Set up Wi-Fi hotspot iOS
Photo from www.9to5mac.com

  1. You can use the Wi-Fi Password option to change the hotspot’s password.

Change the hotspot’s password iOS
Photo from www.9to5mac.com

Always make sure to protect your mobile hotspot with a strong password to prevent other people from using your data plan to connect to the internet. You should choose a password that’s at least 12 characters long, consists of numbers, letters, and special characters, and cannot be easily guessed. Avoid common passwords such as 12345QWERTY and don’t share your password with anyone else unless you’re willing to change it right after.

Keep in mind that your smartphone’s battery will deplete faster with a mobile hotspot active. How much faster exactly depends on many factors, including the number of devices connected to the hotspot and the type of mobile connection.

2. Use a Hotspot Database App

There’s such a massive demand for free public hotspots that there are entire apps dedicated to helping users find them. Hotspot database apps contain a huge list of WiFi hotspots around the world, and some even have passwords for hotspots that are not available to the public without paying.

Here are our top 5 favorite hotspot database apps:

#2
#5

WifiMapper


This excellent and easy-to-use hotspot database app contains a long list of hotspots and information about them. For each hotspot, you can display Foursquare and WifiMapper comments, the hotspot’s type, and its exact place.

WifiMapper OpenSignal
WifiMapper OpenSignal

In the future, the developers behind this app would like to implement password sharing functionality and offline hotspot maps.

Wiman


Quickly becoming the largest hotspot database in the world, Wiman can help you find free WiFi hotspots everywhere you go. Wiman works like the built-in WiFi connection manager on your smartphone, offering you free WiFi hotspots and classifying them based on their quality.

Wiman
Wiman

You can even earn special rewards for using the app and compete with your friends to see who can find the most free WiFi hotspots.

Avast Wi-Fi Finder


Cybersecurity software company Avast has created an incredibly convenient WiFi finder that can give you an answer to the question, “Is there free WiFi near me?” with a single tap on the screen.

Avast Wi-Fi Finder
Avast Wi-Fi Finder

Avast Wi-Fi Finder works even without an internet connection, and it has a large database of WiFi passwords provided by Avast community members from around the world.

Instabridge


Developed by a Swedish company, Instabridge gives you access to one of the largest free WiFi sharing communities in the world. You can download this hotspot database app to your Android or iOS smartphone to instantly unlock many WiFi networks near you.

Instabridge
Instabridge

The Instabridge database is constantly updated to only include functioning WiFi hotspots, and the app can automatically keep you off of those that don’t work correctly. As a bonus, Instabridge includes a VPN service that you can use to protect your data when using free WiFi.

Swift


Swift WiFi boasts a massive database with over 20 million free WiFi hotspots. Since its launch, the app has attracted more than 10 million users from around the world, allowing them to connect to nearby hotspots with a simple click.

Swift
Swift

To keep its users safe, Swift can perform a basic evaluation of available hotspots and highlight those that could be used for malicious purposes. The app can also test your current internet speed to help you decide if the hotspot you’re connected to is fast enough for your needs.

3. Buy a Portable Router

Portable routers, also known as travel routers, are not too different from the router you have at home. Instead of being connected to the internet via a cable, they have a slot for a SIM card, allowing you to connect to 3G and 4G networks practically anywhere in the world. Once connected, a portable router can create a WiFi network, so you can connect all your electronic devices to the internet.

Portable routers are relatively inexpensive, and they often last a whole day on a single charge. When selecting a portable router, pay attention to how many simultaneous connections it supports and how fast it is.

Portable routers
Portable routers

Cheaper portable routers typically support only three simultaneous connections, while premium portable routers can often handle more than 10 simultaneous high-speed connections. Of course, the free WiFi hotspot created using a portable router won’t technically be free since you have to pay for the router and the SIM card, but its convenience makes up for the initial investment.

4. Visit Popular WiFi Hotspot Locations

There are certain places where you’re almost guaranteed to find a free WiFi hotspot. If you’ve ever wondered how to get free WiFi at home, then you should consider moving right next to one of the places listed below:

  • Libraries – The purpose of libraries is to further the education of the local community, and providing free access to the internet is just one way how libraries accomplish their goal. Besides public libraries, your local bookstore is also a good place where to look for a free WiFi hotspot.

  • Public plazas – In recent years, cities around the world have started to cover public plazas with free WiFi hotspots to attract more foot traffic to local stores. With hundreds and potentially thousands of people connected at the same time, you shouldn’t expect the WiFi hotspot in the historical center of your city to rival the fiber optic connection you have at home, but even a slow internet connection is better than no connection at all.

  • McDonald’s/Starbucks — McDonald's, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, and other popular fast-food chains, ice cream parlors, and restaurants have long discovered the revenue-generating power of free WiFi hotspots. Yes, you might have to order a cheeseburger or a latte to connect, but that’s a small — and tasty–price to pay for fast internet access.

5. Look for Hidden WiFi Networks

Wireless networks are identified by SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers), which essentially serve as network names. Without much work, it’s possible to hide a network’s SSID and thus create a hidden network that won’t be readily visible to various WiFi-enabled devices.

But just because a WiFi network is hidden doesn’t mean it can’t be discovered. Using a WiFi analyzer app such as NetSpot, it’s possible to find all nearby hidden networks. NetSpot works on Windows and macOS computers, and it offers two WiFi analysis modes and support for all 802.11 networks, both in the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz bands.

Discover Mode
Discover Mode

To discover hidden WiFi networks with NetSpot:

  1. Launch NetSpot.
  2. Activate Discover mode.
  3. Wait for the automatic scan to discover all nearby networks.

How to Set Up a Free Public WiFi Hotspot?

If you would like to set up a free public WiFi hotspot to provide wireless internet access near your location, you need a couple of things:

  • Reasonably fast internet connection
  • Modern WiFi router
  • WiFi analyzer app like NetSpot

First, you need to find a suitable place for your WiFi router using your WiFi analyzer app. Place your router roughly in the center of the imaginary circle you want to cover with WiFi signal and perform a coverage analysis. NetSpot can turn gathered WiFi data into easy-to-understand visualizations, making it easy to discover signal weak spots.

WiFi analyzer app like NetSpot
WiFi analyzer app like NetSpot

With your router in the ideal place, it’s time to configure the WiFi network itself. There are many different ways you can go about this, but the most important thing is to always enable encryption. Without it, anyone could see what people connected to the network are doing, and that’s not good at all.

Last but not least, you should consider including your WiFi hotspot in public WiFi near me databases and apps so that people can easily discover it.

How to Set Up and Use a Private Hotspot?

When setting up a private hotspot for personal use, you can:

  • Use a WiFi router to make your internet connection wirelessly available to any WiFi-enabled devices,
  • or you can turn on mobile device into a WiFi hotspot using your cellular connection.

The first approach is preferred when setting up a private WiFi hotspot for long-term use at home, while the second approach comes in handy when traveling.

To turn your WiFi router into a private hotspot, you need to find a suitable place for the router using a WiFi analyzer like NetSpot and then enable the WiFi interface in the wireless settings section of the admin panel. Make sure to protect the network with a strong password so that strangers can’t connect to it and steal bandwidth from you.

Turning your mobile device into a WiFi hotspot is even easier because you don’t have to worry about where the device is placed as long as you keep it somewhere near you.

To enable a WiFi hotspot on iOS:

  1. Open the Settings app.
iOS settings
iOS settings
  1. Go to Cellular > Personal Hotspot or Settings > Personal Hotspot.
  1. Turn on the feature.

To enable a WiFi hotspot on Android:

  1. Open the Settings app.
Android settings
Android settings
  1. Find the hotspot setting. For example, the settings are located under Connection & sharing on Xiaomi devices.
  2. Turn on the feature.

Once your private WiFi hotspot is running, you can connect other devices to it just like you would connect to a public WiFi hotspot. Keep in mind that the performance of your WiFi hotspot can be affected by other WiFi networks in your area. NetSpot can help you collect information about nearby networks and troubleshoot any performance-related issues you may run into.

Does My ISP Offer Free Public WiFi Hotspots?

Some internet service providers operate networks of public WiFi hotspots. Xfinity WiFi hotspots from Comcast are a good example, and all Xfinity customers can connect to them using the Xfinity WiFi app.

ISP-operated hotspots are almost always a better choice than hotspots operated by random businesses simply because they guarantee a certain level of security and performance.

We recommend you head over to your ISP’s website to check if it offers free public WiFi hotspots and a companion smartphone app that makes it easy to access them.

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.
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