Free Wireless Internet? (YES, here's how...)
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.
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
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.
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
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 18 Mar 2019
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