There are millions of free Wi-Fi hotspots around the world and probably dozens nearby right now, but how do you find them? Whatever you need to do, there is an app for that as they say. Here’s what you need.
Accessing the internet using Wi-Fi is free and unmetered, which means that it is much preferred to using a phone’s data plan. Watch a few video clips on YouTube or other social media sites and very quickly you will use up all your data allowance on the phone contract.
A gigabyte of internet access is nothing these days and it is quickly used up by videos, photos and streaming music services. To make use of these you really need to log in to Wi-Fi as often as you can. At home or at work this is not a problem and your phone probably connects to the network automatically, but what about everywhere else?
When you are out on a business or leisure trip and away from home and the workplace, finding a Wi-Fi hotspot is not always easy. You don’t want to be walking randomly up and down streets looking for cafes, bars and hotels that might offer Wi-Fi facilities you can use, you want to know exactly where the nearest hotspot is and how to get there using the most direct route.
There are apps that have huge databases of Wi-Fi hotspots from all around the world and with one of them on your phone, you can easily find the nearest Wi-Fi access point.
These apps go further than just locating hotspots, they can provide you with the login details and even automatically log you in.
Even though many Wi-Fi hotspots are free, they often have a login page that requires a password. How many times have you been somewhere like a cafe, gone to the Wi-Fi settings on your phone and discovered that a password is needed? You ask a member of staff what it is and they don’t know. Staff ask each other until they find someone that knows the password and can tell you.
At some places I have even had other people ask me what the password is. It isn’t secret, it is just that the cafe or wherever you are at, is a bit thoughtless and hasn’t bothered to advertise it anywhere. The better places put a sign up, include it on the till receipt when you buy a coffee, put it on the menu and so on. Some seem to assume you can divine it by telepathy.
These apps can solve many of these problems
wiMAN Free WiFi
This is an Android app that can show you where there are free Wi-Fi hotspots and it contains a database that contains their locations. It shows them as pins on a Google map. They are colour coded and purple ones require login, green ones have been verified by another user, and white ones are untested.
The Wi-Fi Manager page shows the Wi-Fi network you are logged into and others within reach that you could switch to. Your Profile page shows the data usage at Wi-Fi hotspots you have used.
When you connect to a hotspot, you can share it with the wiMAN community. The app prompts you to enter the password. Others are not actually shown what it is, but if another member comes along and wants to log in, they can because the app has access to the password.
The app has a very nice design that fits in with the latest Android look and feel, and it has a great graphics. wiMAN was one of the better apps I tried.
The name, WiFi, could not be simpler and the interface is very plain and simple too. You might call it dull in fact. This is basically a ‘lite’ version of Osmino Wi-Fi for Android and it claims to have nearly 20 million Wi-Fi hotspots on its map.
It is a Google map onto which the hotspot locations are displayed. A really nice feature of the map is when you tap a hotspot, it shows a photo of the street or building, from Google street view presumably. It will also get walking or driving directions from your current location, which again is provided by Google. This is a brilliant idea.
It is an interesting use of Google maps and it is quite useful if you are not familiar with the area, or need to travel a fair distance to find a particular Wi-Fi hotspot. You can even write reviews of the hotspots you use.
The WiFi app shows the hotspots within reach and the network you are connected to. You can share the current network with all the other WiFi app users by entering the password for it.
The map is good, but the rest of the app could do with an interface update. It looks dated.
WiFiMapper – Free WiFi Map
This Android app has 3 million free Wi-Fi hotspots and 650 million hotspots in total in its database, which is pretty amazing. I found that WiFiMapper displayed the most hotspots and in town centres they are densely packed.
It is a Google map like the others and it adds pins where there are hotspots. Sometimes dozens of them even when you zoom right in. You can tap a pin to view brief details in a pop-up box, but tapping the ‘i’ button opens a full page of information.
It shows whether the hotspot is free and you can tap the Yes or No button to indicate whether this information is correct. It shows how many people have seen the hotspot, whether a password is required, and the business name if it is a cafe, hotel, and so on. A comment can be left for others to see.
WiFiMapper does not ask for passwords and does not share them.
Are apps that share Wi-Fi passwords legal? This is a bit of a grey area and I don’t know. They could easily be used to share the login details of private networks that people do not intend to be shared and I wonder if this could enable unauthorised people to access them. People can share login details without an app of course, but they do make it easier.
The hotspots I saw while browsing the maps were all public ones like shops, cafes, hotels, libraries and other places that are open for anyone to use, so it seems that most people are sensible about this and I did not encounter any private networks. Of course, I cannot check them all.
There is no doubt that these apps are a useful tool when you are out and in need a hotspot. I prefer WiFiMapper – Free WiFi Map and this is a great app for finding hotspots. It does not share passwords, so you don’t need to worry about any legal issues, and it shows useful information.
- Written by Roland Waddilove
- Created: 18 July 2015