A disgruntled Canadian spills the beans
Cellular Internet service is increasing in coverage and decreasing in price regularly. But it’s not available everywhere, and it’s still expensive. According to Cable.co.uk, the price of cellular data averages $12.55/GB here in Canada, and 70% of Canada has no cell coverage.
Yes, I’m Canadian. I’m not sorry. That was rude, sorry. Anyway, that’s why I always try to find the best WiFi hotspots near me.
What Makes the Best WiFi Hotspot?
Best is a subjective term, so I have criteria to help me test which are the best WiFi hotspots around me. The criteria are in order of importance to me. Adjust for your own preferences.
- Free – Free is my favorite flavor, size, and shape of anything.
- Fast – At least fast enough to watch a YouTube video at its lowest quality.
- Secure – Is anything being done to protect my connection, or am I being data-mined?
- Unlimited – Not unlimited bandwidth, but unlimited time and no content restrictions.
There’s another criterion that’s more subjective and not technical. Will I be comfortable? If I have to sit outside in a Canadian winter or in a hard plastic chair, I don’t care how good the WiFi hotspot is. I’m out.
How Do I Check if a WiFi Hotspot is Free?
Do Internet Cafes still exist? It used to be a thing where you’d pay to access the Internet at a coffee shop. Today, this is viewed as a cost of business and providing added value to the customer.
If they post the password, it’s probably free. If it asks for a credit card when I connect, it’s not free. Some places offer two-tiered WiFi service, where the free connection is slow, but I could pay to access the fast speed. The speed has never been worth it to me, unless I’m doing something data-intensive like uploading photos, etc.
How Do I Check if a WiFi Hotspot is Fast?
The more people on the WiFi network, the slower the network is. So I like to target places that aren’t popular or go there during off-peak times. Sometimes, I’ll connect and run a test with a WiFi analyzer app.
Make sure you check your WiFi speed properly, though. Little things can cause a false reading, like being on your cellular data or other apps running in the background. A lower number for signal strength is better to a point. There is such a thing as too strong of a signal.
A simpler way is to ask someone. If it’s at a business, don’t ask an employee. They want you to stay and spend money. It’s okay to ask another customer who is obviously on the Internet.
How Do I Check if a WiFi Hotspot is Secure?
I always assume that the WiFi hotspot is never secure. My safety is my job. I always use a VPN service on my phone or device. A place with free WiFi is a target-rich environment for hackers. They’ll use things like impostor hotspots or packet sniffing tools to pull your data out of the air.
I assume my data is being collected by the hotspot provider too. If a product is free, then it’s not the product – I am. They want to know if I’m comparing prices from another place. They want to know what my interests are so they can tailor their marketing to me. This is normally legal, but not necessarily ethical. How do I know? I used to work in IT for a retailer.
How Do I Know if a WiFi Hotspot is Unlimited?
Let’s say I’m working on my novel and I’m going to be there all day, then I want WiFi that won’t time out or block researching how to commit the perfect crime. Don’t laugh, we have serious, published novelists on staff here. I’m just not one of them, yet. So how do I know if the WiFi hotspot allows that?
If I have to logon through a captive portal, I know they monitor traffic, block certain content, and require frequent reconnection. A captive portal is a website shown when you first connect that requires signing in and agreeing to conditions before accessing the Internet.
If there’s no captive portal, a firewall may still monitor and restrict traffic. The simplest test I use is to search for something that might be restricted. Of course, I keep it legal and safe for work. If it’s blocked, then there’s a firewall. But there are ways to get around a firewall. A VPN sometimes helps me around content restrictions, but might also violate terms and conditions.
How Do I Find a WiFi Hotspot?
Knowing how to check the criteria for a good WiFi hotspot is nice, but I still haven’t told you how to find WiFi hotspots!
Most phones will show when there’s an open WiFi hotspot in range. I’ll check that. You probably already knew that tip.
Most restaurant chains and big box stores will have open WiFi. Hotels will usually have WiFi, but normally require a password given only to guests. Other travel hubs like airports, bus and train stations often have free WiFi. Again, you probably knew that.
Did you know that the McDonald’s app lists if a location has WiFi?
You can filter Starbucks locations by WiFi availability using its location search, too. In Canada, you’re more likely to find a Timmies, aka Tim Hortons, with WiFi than a Starbucks. Ask for 10 Timbits and a double-double if you go.
Did you know that governments and schools often provide free WiFi hotspots? If I know I’m going to be near a library, college, or public building of any kind, I check their website, call, or visit to see what’s available.
I also check my home Internet service provider’s (ISP) website. In the US, several ISPs like Xfinity, Cox, Spectrum, and Optimum have open WiFi spots available to their customers. This is a service you may be already paying for, so why not use it?
If none of the above options get results, then I could use an app. I’ve never had to, though. Still, there are several apps to find the best free WiFi hotspots for Android and iOS. Be careful of hotspots for which the app says it has saved the password. It could be a fake.
How Do You Find the Best WiFi Hotspots Near You?
The worst-case scenario is that I connect my computer to my cell phone as a mobile hotspot. Everybody has their own way of doing things. My way works for me and some of these ideas may work for you. You might do things I haven’t tried yet. Let us know how you find your best WiFi hotspots when traveling. We’d love to know.