Free Wireless Internet? (YES, here's how...)

Category: Wireless

A reader asks: 'Is there any way to get free wireless Internet access? I'm on a tight budget, so I'd like a solution that works both at home and with my mobile phone.' The answer is YES! 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 careless neighbor who's failed to put a password on their wifi, your options for free internet access at home are slim to nil. Unless you know the secret, that is.

Fortunately, there are 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 between $10 and $60 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 ca 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 Netgear Unite Mobile Hotspot. FreedomPop says the device is free, but charges a one-time activation fee of $9.99. How ever you slice it, it's still $9.99.

The Netgear Unite 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 laptop, iPad, Android tablet, or Kindle, this will enable you to get online with those devices. If you have a desktop that does not have a built-in wifi adapter, you can easily add one that plugs into a USB port.

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 Hotspot ($59) will connect your laptop and 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 $17.95/month with 500 MB, a Plus plan for $27.95 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.

OpenSignal offers a free app you can use on on your mobile device to search for hotspots. Android users, check out 4G WiFi Maps & Speed Test. 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.

EveryoneOn is a nonprofit organization that helps to connect low-income families to the internet. If you have a household income below $49,000, live in public housing, or receive certain types of government assistance, you may qualify for free or discounted plans. It's also worth checking with your Internet service provider to see if they offer any discounted rates for low-income families.

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 Five 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

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Most recent comments on "Free Wireless Internet? (YES, here's how...)"

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

Somewhere I read that FREE means NO COST. Now we have "free WiFi" and there is a charge for it. I wonder if that has anything to do with that "New Math" stuff.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

Freedom Pop makes it hard to leave. I had one of their trials for a minimal fee service (their free service was too limited for any practical use) and it took multiple calls to get rid of it. They denied that I had ever tried to end it and only ended the billing after the last call, no refunds.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

TANSTAAFL, Mikie. Someone pays for it.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

Freedom Pop was deceptive and over billed for me. Further there are a multtude of others who have had the same experience. DONT DO IT!

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

FreedomPop works for me. I have it on just one phone, and that is only for emergencies. HOWEVER, it took me two tries to end my "paid" service. For one month, they had me down for a free plan AND their cheapest paid plan. Since then, fine, EXCEPT their "free" plan charges me $0.01 (one cent) SOME months. Go figure. Oh, you also have to use it for something, just for a few moments, at least once a month. Otherwise, you have to reactivate things. Free, but a pain. Still, just for emergencies...

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

If you're just surfing various websites, those free wifi spots at McDonald's etc are great, but if you want to do your banking, pay bills or do stock trading, probably not the best idea because of privacy issues.

Posted by:

David Scanland
18 Mar 2019

"Free"! I realize that public education is abysmal, but I wish people would look in ANY dictionary, at the definition of The word "FREE".
It means: "not costing or charging anything".
It's not free if you have to buy something else!
It's like advertising a free $10,000 car and in the fine print saying all you have to do is pay $10,000 for shipping and handling... It's not free

Posted by:

18 Mar 2019

FreedomPop is a ripoff.Dishonest company. You can't cancel without many calls and emails, as they continue to bill you. BOB stop advertising a company that steals money from people that need service. SHAME ON YOU BOB! I JOINED ON YOUR RECOMMENDATION.

Posted by:

19 Mar 2019

I also had problems with FreedomPop continuing to charge me after I'd supposedly cancelled. Avoid.

Posted by:

Wild Bill
19 Mar 2019

I have a FreedomPop account as I am a minimalist phone user. I started out with the $7.99/mo plan which rolled over unused data, among other things. However, a few months later the charge magically went up a couple of bucks, with no noticeable heads-up. I cancelled the paid plan and now use the free one. For my purposes (calling the boss from the grocery) its OK. I do suspect that the increase in junk email I am getting may be related to "associated business partners". But that's what spam filters and junk mail are for.

Posted by:

John Marshall
19 Mar 2019

Sometimes "free" is not worth the cost. Such is the case with FreedomPop. You have to have a credit card registered and on file even with the "free" service, and then stay right on top of them to cancel unwanted and unexpected charges. Once those charges are made, generally the best you can hope for is that they don't continue. It's just not worth the hassle but I will give them credit for making it much easier to cancel accounts and to do so online rather than having to call in to customer service. FP's "free" is not worth the endless hassle. Could not recommend.

Posted by:

Jim L
19 Mar 2019

Tried FreedomPop several years ago. My experience was similar to the negative reports above. It appears they have not learned anything.

Posted by:

Karen Norman
21 Mar 2019

I too have a low income. A friend turned me on to AT&T Access that costs only $10 a month. You have to prove you have a low income. They ask for a lot of information .All my other devices get WiFi through my AT&T internet. Even my tv.I don't know if that's what you are looking for but thought I would share this info with you.

Posted by:

03 Apr 2019

Free plan limit is 200 MB/month--not 500. Ordered on March 20, still waiting for device (Fed Ex says arrival date will be Apr 9.) Downgrading is tricky: had to downgrade at least 3 services before finally reaching the $0 point. Will have to wait to see if I'm hit with any surprise charges.

Posted by:

18 Apr 2019

Follow-up, 2 weeks into the plan:
I just cancelled. Site is so (deliberately?)convoluted that it is nearly impossible to navigate. A $20 charge for a top-off service I never asked for and could not successfully cancel was the reason for my cancellation of the entire plan. I did not want to risk further charges for unwanted services.

Posted by:

30 Apr 2019

I guess you have not used the service from FreedomPop.
There was an offer to sign up for $0.01 for 14 days, after that they will charge you 98.88 for 6 months.
They did not say that if you downgrade to the free service they will automatically charge 20.00.
According to them "so that the service will be active".
Since I have not used the service at all and because of that hidden (ugly) policy I will not even start the activation process.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2022

My tablet shows I'm connected to my internet provider and the signal in excellent. But when i want to use the interet it days im disconnected. I cant talk to anyone until tbe morning but i need my internet service tonight. What can i do?

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