Want Free Wireless Internet? Here's How!

Category: Wireless

A reader asks: 'Is there a way to get free wireless Internet access? My budget is very 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 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 $19.99. Whatever, it's still $19.99.

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 $32.98 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 ($79) 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 $27.45 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.

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

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

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

05 Apr 2018

I avoid the shared ISP WiFi hotspot by not using the ISP's router. I own my cable modem, routers. Yes I have to manage them and deal with problems. But I also have complete control over who is using them, etc. And I save the $10/month that Xfinity (Comcast) charges for modem rental.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2018

If you are using free wifi or piggybacking onto a neighbor's wifi, do NOT shop online especially with a credit or debit card, do any online banking - or anything else where your personal information could be exposed to others. You'd be amazed how much personal information is exposed and/or stolen on unsecured networks.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2018

I have FreedomPop on my backup backup backup phone. (Or something like that - I have to go through four others before finally reaching my last-ditch one: the one with FreedomPop.)
Having said that, FreedomPop is fine as a free backup. I actually have more talk and text available than I need on my number one phone, let alone number five. I use wi-fi for data and keep mobile data turned off except for emergencies. It really is free.
HOWEVER, it took me two tries to switch from the trial plan to the free plan. THEN I found out they had given me the free plan AND a paid plan. When I complained, they finally canceled the paid plan.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2018




Posted by:

05 Apr 2018




Posted by:

05 Apr 2018

My son has Comcast/Xfinity and what they don't tell everyone is that, at least for the last 18 months their new Xfinity modems have two (2) signals. One signal is for their customer and may be password protected, etc. The other signal is not capable of being password protected by the customer. That signal is part of "their free WIFI network" that you see them advertising on TV.

Posted by:

Bob Deloyd
05 Apr 2018

Good luck to you if you try Freedompop... I had nothing but troubles with them and their service. After many tries on a Samsung Note 3 I use as my backup phone, I was finally able to finally get it working. Many hassles and hoops to jump through with an unknowing service reps through emails, until they put your request through to a tech who will solve the problem...
Remember this: Only one device per email address or you face multitudes of grief.
My plan at FreedomPop is a US$79.99 Annual 1GB Plan
Talk Unlimited Minutes
Text Unlimited Text Messages
Data 1 GB
Additional Data US$0.020 / MB

My main cell is unlimited through Boost Mobile for $50 a month :)


Posted by:

05 Apr 2018

DON'T use freedom pop. THEY charge me $25 PER QUARTER. Saw the charge, called them and they signed me up for PREMIUM. Asked, What happened to "FREE."
They assumed I wanted "PREMIUM" with out asking me.
Lousy signal. (West Creek, NJ)

Posted by:

Ross Maxwell
05 Apr 2018

My first use of WiFi, and internet, while at home was through my neighbor's unsecured signal. I searched, found it, tried it to see if it would actually WORK. Then I talked to my neighbor, face to face, and asked for permission, which was granted. I used if for several months before he finally secured his signal (without mentioning it to me)o:
I then quickly purchased internet myself. lol

Posted by:

06 Apr 2018

BBB in Los Angles rates freedompop at a B. About 425 ratings with 25% complaints. My own experience with them was horrible.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2018

Here we go, again. The freerer it is the more likely it's very easy to hack, even by newbies. Just be nice, all the time, and don't say anything that could make you ransomable. Freerer and ransomable are not really words, but you get the picture.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2018

This was very timely, Bob! I just spent 3 days trying to solve a problem with Verizon. After reading your article I signed up with Freedompop and as soon as my device arrives I'm canceling Verizon. Even at the full 4G monthly amount, I would still be paying only half of what I'm paying now and, hopefully with less headaches. I did read the fine print and I know that as soon as the free trial period ends they will charge the full 4G amount unless I downgrade so I will do that before the free month ends. Fingers crossed.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2018

Hi Bob
I'm always interested in something for nothing.

Here in Europe we have something approaching free wi-fi. Several providers (BT in the UK, SFR in France)offer registered users access to any other user's router; the routers send two signals, one dedicated to the host, the other is a publicly available wifi signal for those travelling.

If my brother lived next door to an SFR router, he could use my SFR username and password to access unlimited download wifi. Maybe not free wifi but certainly "buy one get one free"....

Posted by:

06 Apr 2018

We live in hurricane land, where houses are built of steel-reinforced concrete blocks and roofs have extensive steel tie-down strapping. Our cell phones only sometimes work inside the house. Hotspots rarely work inside the house. Consider this when considering these.

Posted by:

07 Apr 2018

Mr. Rankin,
Your depth of knowledge, breath of coverage and lack of geeky gobbledygook never ceases to amaze me!
Someday soon, I would NOT be too surprised if you will be educating us on rocket science and performing lobotomy at home.

Kudos and thank you.

Posted by:

09 Apr 2018

To GrannyM:
You many not see this in time and you many never see it, but I wouldn't cancel the Verizon service until your device arrives and you have actually tested it for a couple of months or more.

I tried to replace my AT&T service with FreedomPop and my findings are that:
1) I only get one bar on my cell phone signal unless I'm standing on top of a cell phone tower.
2) In making outgoing phone calls, forget it if you're in between metropolitan areas. If my call actually goes through, I can hear the person I called when they answer, but they can't hear me.

Just test your device thoroughly everywhere so you know what you're getting before cancelling your existing service.

Posted by:

12 Apr 2018

Another SCAM, automatically charges $33/month after 1st month

Posted by:

26 Apr 2018

Ordered FreedomPop (Netgear AcrCard 770S) HotSpot on 4/9; shipped on 4/11; received on 4/20. (No instruction manual.) Cannot connect HotSpot to carrier. Many calls to FreedomPop tried - no person. "Tech" email announced that account was cancelled, but won't say why. Account allegedly re-activated, now says I have a HotSpot, but doesn't allow me to do anything. Credit Card has been charged. All email links go to either a non-existent server (link.p0.com), or phone or SIM activation/help. Any FreedomPop website option (and there are almost none), says that I have to pay again in order to activate. 4/25 - still no carrier connection.

Posted by:

26 Apr 2018

Update 4/26:
Tech finally activated SIM card - now connects.
Average of 3 SpeedTest.net: Ping 136 ms, Down 1.64 Mbps, Up 0.93 Mbps
Looks like you only get 200 MB/month on the free Basic LTE 200 plan.
Website logon says I still need to activate SIM card, but only gives options for phones!??!

Posted by:

15 Jan 2019

I have used freedompop for several years. started with a hotspot [you need to avoid the "bonus 2gb" and be sure you start with the 500mb plan] From 2013 to 15, when it stopped working, but for light use it was good [Sprint changed to LTE]. My first smart phone was from them, and worked OK [I had a simple tracfone for my main calling uses] until changes in the Sprint network. Bought my last smart phone from them in 2016, works well, just don't exceed 400mb/mo. Calling and texts OK. Lastly I bought another hotspot Fall of 2018 in case I want to use my tablet in my car. So, bearing in mind the boundaries of the "free" angle, it's a good deal. Old devices can always use wifi when their cell network capability is obsoleted.

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