Find the UK’S best Wi-fi

Don’t break through your mo­bile-data limit when there’s safe, free Wi-fi just about ev­ery­where. We tell you how to make use of it

Computer Active (UK) - - Contents -

Stay­ing con­nected is a big pri­or­ity for many of us these days. With­out ac­cess to the in­ter­net, we’re ef­fec­tively cut off from our email, on­line stor­age, stream­ing ser­vices and many of the other on­line ser­vices we rely upon. It’s like be­ing stranded on the dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of a desert is­land. And, while mo­bile net­works can pro­vide a data con­nec­tion to phones and other 3G/4G de­vices, re­cep­tion can be un­pre­dictable and down­loads are of­ten capped, mean­ing you could end up be­ing out of pocket if you go over your monthly al­lowance.

Hap­pily, the UK is home to an ex­pand­ing Wi-fi net­work that you can ac­cess in a range of public ar­eas – ho­tels, pubs, li­braries, air­ports and even across en­tire city cen­tres (Black­pool and Bris­tol, for ex­am­ple). High-street chains like Mcdon­ald’s, Star­bucks, Costa, Sub­way and KFC have got in on the act, as have hos­pi­tals and mo­tor­way ser­vice sta­tions. Here, we’ll ex­plain how you can find these hotspots and con­nect safely.

Use apps to track down the best Wi-fi hotspots

The eas­i­est way to lo­cate public Wi-fi net­works is to use your phone or tablet. Some providers have launched their own free apps to help you find the near­est hotspot. BT cus­tomers, for ex­am­ple, can use the BT Wi-fi app for An­droid ( www. snipca.com/25573) and IOS ( www.snipca. com/ 25574) to re­veal nearby net­works.

Other Wi-fi find­ers will hunt down hotspots wher­ever you are in the world and come with an off­line mode that works when you don’t have a data con­nec­tion. Avast Wi-fi Finder (free, www.snipca.com/25576 for An­droid, www.snipca.com/25575 for IOS) is a good choice (see screen­shot below). You need to en­able it while you still have an in­ter­net con­nec­tion then down­load the map data – tap Off­line, then Ac­ti­vate Now and down­load the data for the coun­try or city of your choice.

Search for hotspots on your lap­top

While there are lots of free hotspotfind­ing apps for phones and tablets, there aren’t any re­li­able equiv­a­lents for lap­tops. The Wi-fi Space web­site ( https:// wifispc.com) cov­ers ma­jor towns well, but its data­base of hotspots is far from com­pre­hen­sive in more ru­ral ar­eas.

In­stead, search for hotspots us­ing the web­sites of ma­jor Wi-fi providers, such as The Cloud ( www.snipca.com/25633), BT ( www.snipca.com/25634) and O2 ( www.snipca.com/25635). Of course, you need an in­ter­net con­nec­tion to ac­cess the sites’ on­line maps, so check for hotspots be­fore you leave the house.

Find a hotspot pass­word

It’s a good idea to have more than one Wi-fi finder app be­cause some up­date

their data­base of hotspots quicker than oth­ers. Wi-fi Map is a good op­tion (free for An­droid www.snipca.com/25577 and IOS www.snipca.com/25578). It uses crowd­sourced data to pro­vide up-to-date in­for­ma­tion about hotspot lo­ca­tions, and any pass­words needed to log into them (see screen­shot below left).

Are you al­ready pay­ing for public Wi-fi?

You may al­ready be pay­ing for Wi-fi hotspots with­out re­al­is­ing it. Many broad­band or mo­bile-net­work providers bun­dle free ac­cess to public Wi-fi zones as part of their pack­ages, so it’s worth check­ing with yours. For ex­am­ple, BT Broad­band cus­tomers get ac­cess to 5 mil­lion BT Wi-fi hotspots across the coun­try as part of their pack­age. Sky of­fers its cus­tomers a choice of 20,000 hotspots. While Vir­gin Me­dia, EE, Voda­fone, O2 and Three cus­tomers can ac­cess Wi-fi at Lon­don Un­der­ground sta­tions with­out hav­ing to pay ex­tra.

Most rail op­er­a­tors of­fer Wi-fi with the pur­chase of a train ticket. Vir­gin Trains East Coast pro­vides a Wi-fi code along with your ticket (see www.snipca. com/25637), Greater Anglia of­fers Wi-fi on trains be­tween Nor­wich, Ip­swich and Lon­don ( www.snipca.com/25638), and South West Trains of­fers com­pli­men­tary Wi-fi on just over half of its ser­vices.

There are a few places where you’ll find gen­uinely free Wi-fi. Most public li­braries of­fer free Wi-fi with­out any strings at­tached, for ex­am­ple, as do many com­mu­nity cen­tres.

Se­cure Win­dows be­fore you con­nect

Win­dows has two dis­tinct net­work pro­files: Pri­vate, which you should use when you’re at home; and Public, which dis­ables file shar­ing and other fea­tures to pro­tect your lap­top when you’re out and about.

To check that Win­dows has cor­rectly iden­ti­fied that you’re con­nected to a hotspot (and changed your net­work pro­file to Public), right-click the net­work icon in your taskbar, then click ‘Open Net­work and Shar­ing Cen­tre’. Check that the ac­tive net­work is listed as a ‘Public net­work’. If it’s listed as a ‘Pri­vate net­work’ you should change it to public your­self.

To do this, click Start, Set­tings, Net­work, Wi-fi, then ‘Man­age known net­works’. Click the net­work you’re cur­rently con­nected to, Prop­er­ties, then turn off the ‘Make this PC dis­cov­er­able’ set­ting (see screen­shot below). Next, check the ‘Net­work and Shar­ing Cen­tre’ once more – your con­nec­tion should now be listed as a ‘Public net­work’.

‘For­get’ hotspots for added se­cu­rity

Win­dows re­mem­bers Wi-fi host­pots you’ve used in the past to help speed up the re­con­nec­tion process, but this can mean your PC con­nects to hotspots you’ve pre­vi­ously used with­out you re­al­is­ing. To avoid this, once you’ve fin­ished us­ing the hotspot, click Start, Set­tings, Net­work, Wi-fi, ‘Man­age known net­works’, click the net­work you’re cur­rently con­nected to, then click For­get.

Avast Wi-fi Finder’s off­line mode lets you find Wi-fi even when you have no con­nec­tion Wifi Map pro­vides hotspot lo­ca­tions and lo­gin pass­words

Se­cure Win­dows by switch­ing off file-shar­ing op­tions

Switch on Opera’s IOS VPN app in Set­tings for se­cure brows­ing

Us­ing Opera as your browser can pro­tect you from snoop­ers when con­nected to public Wi-fi

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