It's true that, due to Covid-19, many of us are venturing out less than we used to. But, there are still plenty of occasions when you may find yourself away from home and needing to get on the web to work or just keep in touch with people. In these moments, free Wi-Fi is a huge bonus as it stops you ploughing through your precious data allowances. Here are a few easy ways to get online for free or at least without an ongoing financial commitment.
One thing to note, with the quickly changing situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, many of the tips below could become temporarily unavailable if areas have to go back into lockdown or new restrictions are put in place. Hopefully, they'll all remain relevant for the time being.
How to get free Wi-Fi in coffee shops
It’s an obvious place to start as so many of have spent time in a Costa or Starbucks working on laptops or browsing the internet on smartphones. This is because coffee shops are one of the easiest places to get free Wi-Fi. For the larger chains this usually comes via setting up a free account with services such as The Cloud, 02 Wi-Fi, or whatever flavour of provider is on offer. You’ll have a limited number of devices that can connect at any one time (usually between three and five) but these can be swapped out as and when you need them.
Independent coffee shops also offer free connections, but this is more normally on their own private Wi-Fi, so you’ll need to ask at the counter for the ID and password. Some might point out that this isn’t free, as you have to buy a coffee. But of course the drink costs the same whether you have an internet connection or not, and now you have coffee!
How to get free Wi-Fi in libraries
Although libraries are facing tough times at the moment, they usually offer free Wi-Fi and somewhere to sit. You may need to join the library to gain access (it's free), but if there is a coffee shop concession in your local branch these will usually provide a connection without the need for a library card.
How to get free Wi-Fi in museums and galleries
Over the last few years many of the major museums and art galleries around the UK have been installing free Wi-Fi for visitors. The V & A, Science Museum, and National Gallery all now offer the service, which they often pair with special on-line content to complement the exhibits. Look for other venues around the country, and top up your culture level while Tweeting about the experience.
How to get free Wi-Fi with your BT broadband account
If you’re a BT broadband customer, like many people in the UK, then you already have access to the wide range of BT Wi-Fi hotspots. Download the BT Wi-Fi app to your device, enter your account details, then you’ll instantly have unlimited access to millions of hotspots in the UK and millions more around the world (if you're ever able to travel again).
How to get free Wi-Fi with 02 Wi-Fi
Another main player in the mobile space is 02, which offers free connection to its network of Wi-Fi hotspots. All you need to do is download the 02 Wi-Fi app from your device’s app store, set up the free account, and you’ll be able to take advantage of connections available in places such as McDonalds, Subway, All Bar One, Debenhams, and Costa.
How to get Wi-Fi with a mobile hotspot device
If you're regularly finding yourself without a Wi-Fi connection, it could be worth investing in a mobile hotspot device. These are standalone accessories that can use SIM cards to connect to the web and then allow multiple devices to use the connection.
While it isn't free, with so many great SIM-only deals available now without an ongoing monthly contract, you can get plenty of bandwidth for around £10/$10, although the device itself will set you back a bit more. To see which ones we recommend, read our guide to the best mobile hotspots.
How to get Wi-Fi by using your phone as a hotspot
By the same token, if you already have a generous data allowance on your smartphone, but need to get work done on your laptop, you can always connect the two. Creating a hotspot on your smartphone will allow the PC to access the internet via that local network. Just remember not to watch loads of videos or download large files, as they will all quickly eat up your monthly allowance.
For more instructions on getting this up and running, read how to connect a laptop to your phone's Wi-Fi hotspot or how to use an iPhone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
How to get free Wi-Fi by using open hotspots
For those who find themselves in a tight spot and see an unsecured (not password protected) Wi-Fi network appear in the list of which isn't one of the official ones listed above….stop. This is one of the easiest way to have your data stolen, identity cloned, and generally not have a good time.
Hackers often set up fake networks that look innocent, and even emulate ones you would expect to find in a venue, all in the hope of getting you to connect. From that point on everything your device communicates to the server is essentially going into the hacker’s pocket.
For this reason if you need to send sensitive information, or generally use your device for anything at all, you should use a VPN, which encrypts the data going to and from your device to the internet.
However, it's still best to avoid connecting to an open Wi-Fi network, and if the venue you’re in doesn’t seem to know it either, keep well away.
Our guide to the best phone networks is a good place to start if you want to see if you can get more data for your money and thus avoid the need for Wi-Fi at all.