It wasn’t long ago when making an out of town sales call meant that you had to do backflips to find internet connectivity that wouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Hotels at the time charged outrageous user fees for Wi-Fi, but options for the business traveler were limited. Fast forward to today and you will find that with a modicum of effort you can be connected to all your internet needs for free virtually anywhere in the world.
Coffee shops were probably the original and most popular spots to access Wi-Fi, have a cup of coffee and perhaps mingle with other people doing the same. If my recollection is correct, many of the larger coffee shops charged a fee for connectivity, making me less interested in going there to work. Popular Science has accumulated a list of well-known retail establishments that offer Wi-Fi for free. The list is broken down as follows.
Coffee shops: Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s
Fast food restaurants: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, Panera Bread, and some Subways and Arby’s
Retailers: Apple, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target, Whole Foods, Staples, Office Depot.
Nice list of coffee shops and fast food joints, but I’m not sure I have ever had the urge to hang out at Home Depot and create a spreadsheet. Actually, it is a pretty savvy move on their part, as many shoppers nowadays check product and pricing information online while shopping.
Take advantage of your internet provider’s networks when out and about. I am a Comcast user, so all I have to do when I am on the road is to log in to my regular Comcast account and it will give me access to all the hotspots near my location. The app to do this with Comcast is called Xfinity Hotspots and is available for free from your app store.
As one would imagine, there are apps available as well that will let you zero in on these hotspots. One such app is Wi-Fi Map. When you launch the app, it detects your location and shows you a list of hotspots near you. If the hotspot has a password, Wi-Fi Map will list it for you, letting you connect to just about any business’ network. How cool is that? The password feature is enormously helpful. Rarely do you find an unlocked network to access when traveling. Now, this app not only shows you which networks are available, but gives you the password to access them as well. Other apps you might already use, such as Facebook, have a built-in Wi-Fi finder. However, the networks they access are usually locked, and Facebook does not provide a password.
The downside to accessing these open networks is the lack of security. The old adage, “if something is free, it can be too good to be true,” applies with free Wi-Fi and security. Instead of using HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), attempt to use HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). Using HTTPS, the computers agree on a “code” between them, and then they scramble the messages using that “code” so that no one in between can read them. This keeps your information safe from hackers. If this is not possible, you will have to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which uses a secure IP address for safely using open networks.