You don’t need to depend on the Internet at home. Here’s how to get Wi-Fi anywhere for free

This story is part of Tips for the homeCNET’s collection of how-to tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Our lifestyles have become increasingly dependent on having a good internet connection. Us learn online, Work from home on laptops and entertain ourselves with our favorite programs Y films on streaming services. Stable Wi-Fi is crucial day after day.

So what happens when you’re out and about, away from your Wi-Fi at home? Or what if your home internet not so fast in the first place?

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In this guide, we’ll give you a quick rundown of how to quickly get online using a access pointand how to find free Wi-Fi anywhere in the world. (You can also learn how to tell if your Wi-Fi is slow due to internet throttling, how to speed up your wifi and our picks for the best vpns.)

What is an access point?

An access point is a central location or device that provides wireless access to the Internet, and any network device can connect as long as it has adequate access. Depending on your mobile phone provider and plan, you may be able to use your smartphone as hotspot.

There are two different types of access points: public and private.

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

Typically, a business creates a public hotspot to provide Internet service when visitors, customers, and customers are on the site. Many free, public Wi-Fi connections are hotspots. But for the sake of accuracy, it’s important to note the difference between standard Wi-Fi and a hotspot.

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

While access points 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 devices, and an Internet service provider that connects that router to the Internet.

As long as you set a strong password, a private Wi-Fi network like that 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, so it’s a good idea to use a vpn either any other security measure if you need to do something delicate, like buy or send money.

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

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

An access point is a central location or device that provides wireless Internet access.

Brad Wagner/Telstra

How to find free Wi-Fi or free public hotspots

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

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

Apps like these will display a map of your area with a list of free public Wi-Fi or available hotspots. Most will also let you keep track of login requirements and hotspot reviews.

Some locations, like libraries, generally offer free public Wi-Fi, 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 plan to use supports Wi-Fi. If so, make sure Wi-Fi is turned on.

Once you have reached 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. Next, select the public Wi-Fi connection you want to use. If the connection is public, you are now connected, but watch for a subscription site to appear in your browser. Some companies require you to agree to their terms of service or provide an email address before allowing you to use their free Wi-Fi.

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

If you’ve set your computer to automatically connect to available networks, the next time you visit that business, your computer will automatically join their network.

hotspot device htc 5g

This HTC hotspot device 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 cellular signal, a paid hotspot may 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 beyond your budget.

Depending on your mobile provider and the plan you pay for, you may already have personal hotspot capabilities. If not, talk to your provider 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 prices, you will have to decide between using your smartphone as a hotspot or buying a dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot device.

Check your phone settings for hotspot capabilities.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Should I use my smartphone or a separate hotspot device?

A hotspot device will be considered a separate device on your mobile plan with its own separate data limit. The downside is the extra cost, but the upside is that you won’t have to worry about using your smartphone eating up your hotspot data. Another positive aspect: if you establish a secure password, using a hotspot device to connect is just as secure as any Wi-Fi connection provided by an ISP, and will often provide a greater range of coverage as well. We are also seeing a growing number of complete Wi-Fi routers and mesh routers which are designed to get their incoming signal over a cellular connection, such as LTE or 5G.

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

What Wi-Fi 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 connectivity during the pandemic. Also, vendors like Comcast Free public Wi-Fi extended to anyone (customers and non-customers) during 2020. Many providers have extended benefits like that through 2022; If you’re having difficulties, it’s worth checking with providers in your area to see what your options are.

Whichever path you take, the bottom line is that you probably have more ways to be online than you think. Hopefully this guide will help you find and take advantage of them; In the meantime, here is some additional reading that you may also find useful:

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