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
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