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We’ve all been there: Trying to send a message, look up an address, or get directions, only to have no Wi-Fi. But there are ways to get free Wi-Fi—here are our tips, and keep them in mind the next time you desperately need an internet connection. It also pays to be prepared by looking up all your options before actually losing your connection.
Here are 5 things you can do to get free internet anywhere.
1. Go indoors
Sounds obvious, but your best bet is to start your Wi-Fi search somewhere indoors, as hotspots are often offered by cafes, shopping malls, public libraries, hotels, and museums. Besides offering free Wi-Fi, some of these places may also provide seating where you can park yourself for long periods of time without getting hassled.
However, one of the biggest risks in using public Wi-Fi is that these networks are often unsecured, meaning that your sensitive data is susceptible to hacking attempts. Thus, it’s paramount to always use a VPN whenever you’re connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. A VPN encrypts your online traffic so no one can see what you’re doing.
2. Identify nearby networks by name
Take a look at the Wi-Fi networks available near you just by looking at your phone’s Wi-Fi settings. Often, a network’s name gives away where it is. Head to a named cafe, for example, and ask an employee for the password if needed (although it might mean buying a cup of coffee).
3. Use apps to find Wi-Fi hotspots
Another way to help your search is by using free apps or websites that are specially created to help you pinpoint more free Wi-Fi hotspots in the vicinity. Programs such as WifiMap may even contain passwords for some Wi-Fi networks. The catch is that you will have to do this while you have internet, of course.
4. Check for your ISP’s extended Wi-Fi networks
Depending on where you live, different internet service providers (ISPs) may operate free Wi-Fi hotspots for their customers to connect to. If you’re in the U.S., companies such as AT&T, Comcast, and Spectrum offer widespread coverage in bigger cities, so it’s worth checking in with your ISP to see if they provide such networks near you.
5. Hotspot off your own devices
When all else fails, it’s time to be left to your own devices—literally. Your gadgets can also double up as Wi-Fi hotspots in the following ways:
Turn your mobile device into a hotspot. You can set up your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot as long as you still have a cellular data connection.
On iOS, you can find the option to do so via Settings > Personal Hotspot > tap on Allow Others to Join after setting a password.
On Android, you can do so by going into Settings > Wireless & Networks > Tethering & Portable Hotspot > Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot > toggle on Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot after setting a password. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to connect any of your other devices to your very own Wi-Fi network, albeit with slower browsing and streaming speeds.
Use a portable router. This option is not free but is a good one to know. Portable routers, also called pocket Wi-Fi, are palm-sized devices popular among travelers and businesspeople. You prepay for an amount of data, which can be topped up on the go with a credit card. Then, simply keep the router near you and connect to it on your phone like any other Wi-Fi network. Portable routers offer excellent internet speeds and are generally much safer to connect to than unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.