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Technology At Home

You can find free wifi everywhere. Here’s how

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This story is part of Tips for at homeCNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, both inside and out.

It is almost impossible to live in the modern world without one strong internet connection. We online learning, work from home on laptops and entertaining ourselves with our favorite shows and movies On streaming services. Stable WiFi is crucial day in and day out.

So what happens when you’re on the road, away from you Wi-Fi at home? Or what if you have internet at home is not that fast in the first place?

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In this guide, we’ll give you a quick overview of how to get online quickly with one hotspot, and how to find free WiFi anywhere in the world. (You can also learn how to tell if your wifi is slow due to internet throttling, how to speed up your wifi and our choices the best VPNs.)

What is a hot spot?

A hotspot is a central location or device that provides wireless access to the Internet and any network device can connect, provided it has the appropriate access. Depending on your mobile operator and plan, you may not be able to access your smartphone as a hotspot.

There are two different types of hotspots: public and private.

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In the above scenario where you paid your mobile carrier for the ability to create a hotspot with your smartphone, the smartphone is the physical device that enables wireless access to other Wi-Fi devices such as laptops, desktop computers, and streaming devices . This is an example of a private hotspot.

A public hotspot is usually created by a company to provide internet service when visitors, customers and customers are on site. Many free, public Wi-Fi connections are hotspots. But for accuracy, it’s important to note a difference between standard Wi-Fi and a hotspot.

What is the difference between Wi-Fi and a hotspot?

While hotspots are a physical location or device, Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that devices can use to send information to each other. If you have Wi-Fi at home, it’s because you have a Wi-Fi router that supports all of your wireless gadgets, and an ISP that connects that router to the Internet.

As long as you set a strong password, such a private Wi-Fi network will be more secure than a public hotspot because you control who and what connects to it. Public hotspots, on the other hand, are open to anyone within range, which is why it’s a good idea to take advantage of them a VPN or another security measure if you need to do something sensitive like shopping or sending money.

Read more: How to save up to $75 a month on your internet bill

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A Telstra technician installs a 5G-enabled public Wi-Fi hotspot

A hotspot is a central location or device that provides wireless access to the Internet.

Brad Wagner/Telstra

How to find free Wi-Fi or free public hotspots

While this probably isn’t possible at home (unless you live very close to someone who has an unsecured network), there are usually many options for finding free Wi-Fi or public hotspots in businesses such as coffee shops, libraries, hotels, restaurants, fitness centers, and more.

If you’re about to start looking for free internet, here are some useful apps to try:

Such apps display a map of your area with a list of free public Wi-Fi or available hotspots. Most also allow you to keep track of login requirements and hotspot ratings.

Public Wi-Fi is generally free in some locations, such as libraries, but if you’re not using a Wi-Fi finder app, it’s a good idea to call first to make sure.

How to set up and use free Wi-Fi

Make sure the device you want to use is Wi-Fi enabled. If so, make sure Wi-Fi is turned on.

Once you arrive at the location where you will be using public Wi-Fi or hotspot, open a browser and then open your computer’s network settings or click the Wi-Fi icon on your screen. Then select the public Wi-Fi connection you want to use. If the connection is public, you are now connected, but note that an opt-in site appears in your browser. Some companies require you to agree to their terms of service or provide an email address before they’ll let you use their free Wi-Fi.

Some companies provide a login and password to their customers and offer a secure network. If the connection you want to use shows as secure, look for the login and password posted in the company, or ask someone for help. And yes, if you’re somewhere like a coffee shop, it would be polite to buy a pastry or cup of coffee while you’re at it.

If you have set your computer to automatically connect to available networks, your computer will automatically connect to their network the next time you visit that company.

htc 5g hotspot device

This hotspot device from HTC uses an incoming 5G connection to provide Wi-Fi internet access for nearby wireless devices.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

How to set up and use a private hotspot

They’re not free, but if you need an internet connection at home and have a good mobile signal, a paid hotspot could be a place to turn. For example, maybe you live in a rural area with limited ISP optionsor maybe the internet plans in your area are all out of your budget.

Depending on your mobile carrier and the plan you pay for, you may already have personal hotspot capabilities. If not, check with your carrier to determine how much they will charge you for that option. Be prepared to pay more if you’re looking for unlimited data.

After considering the price, you need to decide whether to use your smartphone as a hotspot or purchase a dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot device.

Check your phone’s settings for hotspot capabilities.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Should I use my smartphone or a separate hotspot device?

A hotspot device is considered a separate device in your mobile plan with its own separate data limit. The downside is the extra cost, but the upside is that you don’t have to worry about your smartphone usage eating up your hotspot data. Another positive point: if you a strong password, using a hotspot device to get online is as secure as any ISP-provided Wi-Fi connection, and it often offers greater range as well. We are also seeing a growing number of full-featured Wi-Fi routers and mesh routers that are designed to get their incoming signal through a cellular connection, such as LTE or 5G.

Both smartphone hotspots and dedicated hotspot devices can be used anywhere, although it may be more convenient to use a smartphone hotspot in public places, especially if you’re just trying to get your laptop online for a few minutes.

What WiFi options does my internet provider offer?

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission created the Keep Americans Connected initiative to help people maintain their broadband and phone connection during the pandemic. Moreover, providers love Comcast extended free public Wi-Fi for all (customers and non-customers) in 2020. Many providers have such extensive benefits — if you’re struggling, it’s worth checking with providers in your area to see what your options are.

Whichever path you choose, the bottom line is that you probably have more ways to get online than you may realize. Hopefully, this guide will help you find and use them — in the meantime, here’s some more information you might also find useful: