Free Wireless Internet? Here's How!

Category: Wireless

A reader asks: 'Is there a way to get free wireless Internet access? My budget is limited, so I'd like a solution that works both at home and with my mobile phone.' Read on to learn about free wireless Internet -- it's not just in coffee shops anymore...

How to Get Free Wireless Internet

Everyone knows you can get a free wifi connection at your local Starbucks, the public library, and possibly even at your dentist's office. Using free wifi can save you money by helping to limit the amount of data you consume on your smartphone.

But it's not very convenient if you have to run to the nearest coffee shop to check your email or do a quick Google search on a free mobile hotspot. And if you don't have a clueless neighbor who's failed to put a password on their wifi, your options for free internet access at home are slim to nil. At least until recently, that is.

Fortunately, there are now some wireless Internet access providers that are offering free Internet connections. There are some limitations on the free service, as you might imagine. First, service is not available in all locations. You'll have to check a coverage map to see if your town or neighborhood is in a wifi coverage zone. Second, your free monthly data allowance will be modest. And third, you'll have to purchase a little gadget that costs about between $20 and $70 to make the magic work. But if you're willing to abide that one-time fee, and you live in an area where they provide coverage, you really can get free wireless Internet, month after month, at home and around town.

free internet access

FreedomPop is a wireless Internet service provider that offers a free wifi plan. They offer 500 MB of free high speed (4G) wireless internet per month. (You'll get 2 GB free your first month.) Check the FreedomPop coverage map to see if your area is covered.

As I mentioned above, you do need to buy a little gadget that pulls in the cellular data signal from the air, and converts it to a wifi signal that your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop can use. This is a one-time fee, there is no monthly charge to rent the device. Currently the device being offered by FreedomPop is the Franklin Wireless R850. FreedomPop says the device is free, but charges a one-time activation fee of $19.99. Whatever, it's still $19.99.

The R850 is a portable 4G hotspot that can provide wifi to several devices at once. It's a good choice for both home and mobile use. If you have a wifi-only iPad, Android tablet, or Kindle, this will enable you to get online with those devices while you're away from home. If you have a desktop or laptop that does not have a wifi adapter, opt for one of FreedomPop's USB modems instead. This device which plugs into your computer's USB port works the same, but you're limited to internet access on one device at a time.

Keep in mind that your data allowance is not unlimited. If you're a casual user who just wants to check email, do a bit of web surfing, or update your Facebook page once in a while, you might be able to stay under the 500 MB/month limit. My wife and I both have smartphones, and I was surprised to learn that our average combined data usage is only about 1.2 GB per month, or about 600 MB each. We both use our phones for email, web, Google maps, news, weather, and a variety of apps. So it's not impossible for a single user to stay under the 500 MB allowance. If your needs are greater, you can purchase extra data at reasonable prices.

Be sure the read the small print on the FreedomPop checkout page. You get 1 month for free, which includes 2GB of data. Then your service will automatically renew at $34.98 every month, UNLESS YOU SWITCH TO THE FREE PLAN by logging into your FreedomPop account during the first month. As I mentioned before, the free plan gives you 500 MB of data per month.


NetZero has a similar free wireless Internet offering, but their data allowance is not as generous, and coverage is not as robust as the FreedomPop offering. With NetZero's free wifi offering, you get just 200 MB of free 4G data. And of course you'll need a USB modem or hotspot device. The NetZero Stick ($69) is aimed at laptop and netbook users, while the NetZero Hotspot ($129) is what you'll need if you want to connect mobile devices. The Hotspot supports up to 10 wireless connections, and is rated at six hours of battery life.

If you need more than 200 MB of data, NetZero offers a Basic plan for $14.95/month with 500 MB, a Plus plan for $24.95 with a 1 GB data allowance, and other plans with more data. Unused data does not roll over from month to month. Also, in the small print of the NetZero pricing page, I found a notice that "Access to the Free plan from a specific device expires (and may not be renewed) after twelve months." That means the free ride is good for one year, but it sounds like you could buy another "device" and continue.

It's cool that FreedomPop and NetZero offer free wireless internet service, albeit with limits. But they're not operating as a charity. They hope that you'll like the free service and eventually upgrade to a paid plan. And there's nothing evil about the "freemium" business model. Even on the paid plans, the FreedomPop and NetZero service is cheaper than what you'd pay if you got a mobile hotspot gadget from Verizon, Sprint or AT&T.

The upside for going with one of the Big Three providers is that you'll get coverage in more areas, especially on the Verizon network. But if your wifi needs are modest, or you just want to minimize the amount of data you use on your mobile plan, the free wifi services I've mentioned can be a money saver.

Options For Truly Free Wireless Internet

Caution and awareness are key when surfing the Web via free public wireless hotspots. You could be exposing everything on your device to nearby snoops or hackers. See my article The Problem With Free Wifi Hotspots to pick up some tips on wireless hotspot security.

I'm sure some people reading this will be disappointed that I promised "free wireless internet" but there was a cost for the hotspot device. So let me repeat what I mentioned at the beginning of the article. There are plenty of places where you can go for 100% free wifi, if you're willing to venture out your front door. Libraries, coffee shops, hotels, airports, and over 11,500 McDonalds restaurants across the USA offer free wifi. All you need is a laptop, tablet or smartphone with wifi capability. You can even stay all day, or until the manager gives you the evil eye, and suggests that you might want to be moving along.

But free wifi is not limited to indoor establishments. Many cities offer free wifi in certain outdoor areas. Check out the Municipal Wireless Network. Another hotspot directory you can browse through is the The Wi-Fi FreeSpot Directory.

JiWire also offers a free app you can use on on your mobile device to search for hotspots. Android users, check out Wifi Finder. iPhone/iPad users, see the Wi-Fi Finder app.

Your Internet service provider (ISP) may include access to mobile hotspots. If you have home internet service from Comcast, Verizon, Optimum, Time Warner/Spectrum, and some other ISPs, your smartphone or laptop can access a network of free wifi hotspots when you're out and about.

And of course there's your dumb neighbor who forgot to secure his wireless router. In certain places, though, it's illegal to tap into an unsecured wireless network. And in ALL places, it's a bad idea to leave your wireless signal unsecured. Read my story about The WiFi Security Mistake You Must Avoid to learn why.

Do you have any tips to offer on free wireless Internet access? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Free Wireless Internet? Here's How!"

Posted by:

Robert Hall
19 May 2017

For low income folks like me, $10 a month gets ATT's Access program, Internet, no limits and some places around 2 to 12 Mb/s. depending on time of day. I CAN stream Netflix and Pandora.


Posted by:

Shawn Rosvold
19 May 2017

My father-in-law gets free wifi by sitting in our driveway and using our bandwidth to load all his stuff onto his ipad.

I have Republic Wireless, primarily a wifi phone service, and I don't usually have a problem finding a connection. When I travel, I use Skyroam which has been flawless.


Posted by:

zee
19 May 2017

Thanks for pointing out the small print on FreedomPop's offer. Sometimes that type of thing is too easy to miss


Posted by:

BILL DAVIS
19 May 2017

I TRIED FREEDOMPOP FOR CELLPHONE AND THEY KEPT CHARGING MY CREDIT CARD AND I DID NOT AGREE TO ANY MONTHLY FEES AND I WAS NOT CHECKING MY ONLINE BANK STATEMENTS FOR ABOUT 8 MONTHS BECAUSE I WAS SICK SO THEY GOT AWAY WITH THEIR SCAM OF SO CALLED FREE CELLPHONE SERVICE UNTIL LAST MONTH WHEN I CAUGHT THEM DOING IT AGAIN . SO CHECK YOUR CREDIT CARD CHARGES EVERY MONTH AND THE SAME GOES FOR YOUR BANK STATEMENTS AND PAYPAL STATEMENTS !!!

AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED THEY ARE CROOKS !!!

I WANT A SPECIAL ANTENNA OR DISH THAT CAN GRAB COSTCO OR WALMART OR STARBUCKS AND ALL 3 ARE WITH IN 1 OR 2 MILES OF MY HOME ,,, IS IT POSSIBLE ??

I HOPE SOME REALLY TECH SMARTS PERSON CAN HELP ME ?

I ALSO LIVE IN A MOBILE HOME PARK WITH 195 OTHER SENIORS WHO ARE CONNECTED BY COX.NET WHICH IS CHARGING US $85++ AND NO OTHER INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER IS ALLOWED TO GIVE SERVICE IN OUR PARK SO WE HAVE TO PAY COX OR GET NOTHING !!!!

I HATE IT WHEN ONLY ONE PROVIDER HAS ACCESS AND THEY SCREW YOU AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE ,

I SEE ATT HAS A $10 PLAN FOR FAMILIES WITH KIDS BUT THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT OFFER ANY DISCOUNTED PLANS FOR DISABLED OLD PEOPLE WHO NEED INTERNET AT A LOW COST ,, DAM !!!

I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR ME TO TAP INTO MY NEIGHBORS INTERNET SIGNALS FOR FREE BUT I HATE THAT IDEA !

THERE MUST BE A WAY THAT SOME TYPE OF DISH OR ROOF ANTENNA CAN GRAB WIFI FROM THE AIR ??

IF I CAN LEARN WHAT I NEED TO KNOW THEN I CAN SHARE THAT INFO WITH THE OTHER 195 SENIOR FAMILIES SO WE ALL CAN TELL COX.NET BYE BYE

PLEASE HELP TO LEARN WHAT I CAN DO FOR GETTING FREE INTERNET SERVICE , ??


Posted by:

JGS
19 May 2017

I did not observe a warning from you about the insecurity of using the free wifi spots, e.g., McDonalds. If one has a Virtual Private Network plan (VPN), aren't all those wifi hotspots truly free AND safe? A good VPN will charge a nominal fee (NordVPN provides a 2 year plan for $77).


Posted by:

George
19 May 2017

Freedompop will cheat you. See BBB complaints. They did similar thing to me.


Posted by:

WILLIAM DAVIS
19 May 2017

I FORGOT TO ADD THAT WE HAVE A CLUBHOUSE IN OUR PARK AND THERE IS INTERNET INSIDE OUR CLUBHOUSE , SO MAYBE A SPECIAL TYPE OF WIFI ANTENNA COULD ACCESS THE WIFI THAT IS FREE TO ANYONE THAT COMES INSIDE THE CLUBHOUSE ??

I THINK WIFE SIGNALS ARE NOT LOCKED INSIDE A BUILDING ????????


Posted by:

LadyLiberTEA
20 May 2017

Like JGS I'm surprised no mention of the security danger to sensitive info on public shared wifi JGS mentions purchasing a VPN for $36/year to make public wifi safe I'm thrilled to hear of this technology Bob may have already blogged about but bears repeating with his latest free wifi update.

The always informative community commenters' experience with/and warnings about Freedompop are as helpful as Bob's blogs. Thank you all :)


Posted by:

Mikey
20 May 2017

I looked into FreedomPop's cell phone service once.

I needed basic information not provided on their website. There was no way to get it without selecting one of their plans, and that meant giving more and more personal information. And when FreedomPop asked for my credit card number, without giving me any indication I would get access to the information I needed--I closed my browser.


Posted by:

Bob Greene
20 May 2017

More than ever, the day of community-supported (ie. regional or municipal) WIFI and/or fiber internet has arrived. Not that the commercial ISPs welcome it-- far from it. They resent the idea citizens would dare to create and support a community internet option.

But much of the country thinks otherwise, and the idea is catching on in certain cities at this very moment. As commercial behemoths AT&T, Verizon and Comcast drool at the thought of squeezing hapless consumers between them with soaring price increases (in addition to their already soaring profits), community / municipal internet can only benefit from latest developments in fiber capacity.

Now is the time to organize-- find out who in your community supports locally-supported, full access to the internet, unfettered by the Three Greedy Profiteers. Here is a taste of things to come--
https://muninetworks.org/communitymap


Posted by:

WILLIAM DAVIS
20 May 2017

Hello Bob Greene ,

Thanks for the URL

https://muninetworks.org/communitymap

It gives me HOPE that MAYBE in the Near future San Diego might Start a GIG Internet Service

But I will not Hold my breath waiting for it .

Thanks again for the Info and the URL


Posted by:

john silberman
20 May 2017

Seems like more and more of Bon's articles brings in comments about VPN. I am a big believer in VPN and do pay for the service. However, there are more and more free VPNs available for both PC and mobile. I assume some are honest providers while there may be others where the VPN is just a front to gather browsing data. Maybe Bob can do an article on Free VPN services?


Posted by:

mike
21 May 2017

@Bill Davis: Depending on what type of device you are using (laptop or pc would work) you can buy a high powered antenna from Amazon for around $20 which will increase your range for detecting WiFi signals. However you may have to solder it to your wireless card if that's something you know how to do. And no, wifi is not locked inside a building like your mobile park's clubhouse-the range depends on the strength of the WiFi signal, objects blocking that signal (walls) etc. Alternately you could buy a hotspot device from a provider like Cricket or StraightTalk (Walmart) and pay a monthly fee for data. They use cellular networks to provide service and you don't have to worry about being locked into a contract. Most of their plans are pretty reasonable as are the cost of their devices.


Posted by:

John
21 May 2017

Having used FreedomPop (or perhaps more frequently "attempted to") for some time, my conclusion is that it's just not worth the hassle, but you do omit one positive factor: you get an additional 50 mb data at no charge for each other FP user you connect to as a "Freedom Friend".
On the poor side, despite being in what is shown as a high 4G LTE signal strength areas in both Phoenix, AZ and Jacksonville, NC, I have never, ever been able to connect to 4G LTE with my older (but supposedly 4G LTE capable) FP device. Has anyone ever connected to 4G LTE via FP?


Posted by:

Sherry
01 Jun 2017

FreedomPop SF Bay Area 5-31-17:

No Free Plans

Pro 500MB (4G/3G)
Data Limit: 500 MB
Additional Data: $0.02 per MB
$3.99/mo [select]

Is the least expensive - cheap, but not free - did I miss something?


Posted by:

theFriz
10 Jun 2017

I bought one of the Internet-Go hotspot devices from Internet-GO (subsidary of Truconnect.com).
The hotspot costs $29, then you add 1 Gig of data for $19. The catch: you have to use it at least once every 60 days or you lose your data. The usage records are not accesible, so they can claim you missed out and take your data. After complaint to BBB they restored the data and have been reliable since. The data is supposed to last forever. Your balance can be read on their website, but it is in 100MB increments and doesn't list any times/dates of use.
This can work good for low data users if you stay within the rules. On Sprint, so that's ok in metro areas, etc. For $10 more you can get a better hotspot. The Dlink Dw330 they sell you is bare minimum.
At least they are a USA company and subject to BBB reputation and US consumer fraud laws.


Posted by:

BFB
18 Jun 2017

Hello Bob,

I checked Freedompop. It's now limited to 200 mgb for the basic. ATT offers various unlimited higher speed plans starting about the same as Freedompop's limited plan and you can bundle it with your TV service for a better rate plus they provide the router free and maintain it or replace it if it fails. Most other providers do the same. We have no hassle with their service either.


Posted by:

Ken Reynolds
20 Jul 2017

We live too far from connected internet, and we have internet vice satellite. How can we improve our use of Sat intervice.


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