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Free Wi-fi: How to save mobile data on the go

Mobile data can be expensive, and if you hit your monthly limit, purchasing more of it is rarely a cost-effective option, with many major mobile networks asking you to pay at least a couple of pounds for just 250MB of data.

However, by making the most of the free Wi-Fi available to you, you can avoid forking out unnecessarily. We look into free Wi-Fi and how you can save your mobile data while on the go.

What is Wi-Fi? And is it the same as a hotspot?

Most of us are obsessed with checking our social networks, and having a lack of Wi-Fi is a quick way to have us climbing the walls with frustration!

Wi-Fi is a technology that allows users of gadgets like smartphones, tablets and laptops to access the internet wirelessly. This is a technology many of us have become increasingly reliant on over the years and helpfully, more and more Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up across the country.

A hotspot, is a physical location that has an accessible wireless network (this wireless network is usually Wi-Fi ). These sorts of public Wi-Fi connections tend to be less secure than your 3G or 4G connection, so be careful to protect yourself against scams by following our security tips listed later on in this blog post, or for advice on scams more generally, check out our beginners guide to scams.

Where and how can I get free Wi-Fi?

There are lots of public places where you can find free and legal Wi-Fi hotspots. These days you are likely to find them in many food and drink outlets as well as libraries, museums and train stations. You can sometimes even connect to Wi-Fi for free on trains and coaches. You can track down hotspots using apps like Wi-Fi Map.

Often all you need to do once you’re in a hotspot, is open your mobile browser with your Wi-Fi switched on and instructions on how to connect will appear. On other occasions, you might need to ask for the log-in details from a member of staff.

While most Wi-Fi hotspots are run independently, there are several major providers offering free Wi-Fi publicly, or to customers of specific broadband companies or mobile networks.

Money Saving Expert has a list of these providers with information on how to gain access their network.

You might also have access to a hotspot that isn’t open for public use at your workplace or place of education (you’d usually need a username and password for these, which you might need to ask for).

Where can I get free Wi-Fi at night?

If you’re out and about in the evening it can be a little harder to track down free Wi-Fi, due to lots of public buildings being closed. However, the major providers listed by Money Saving Expert above will still offer you access, along with some night time transport services.

Things to be aware of when accessing free Wi-Fi:

• Movement: To stay connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot you’ll need to stay close by, so they won’t be any good if you need to move about.
• Marketing: To gain access to free hotspots, you’ll often be asked to register your details. Be sure to look out for the option to opt out of marketing emails and texts when entering your details, to avoid receiving lots of spam in your inbox.
• Security: Wireless networks that are open to everyone aren’t as secure as private connections, so once you’re connected, you should avoid doing anything online that involves your private data if you can. If something like logging into your online banking or entering your card details is unavoidable, check that any websites you’re visiting are secure (there should be a padlock in the address bar and the web address should start with HTTPS, not just HTTP). Finally, ensure you’re not making it easy for someone lurking over your shoulder to watch what’s happening on your screen!
• Usage limitations: A lot of Wi-Fi hotspots will have restrictions in place on the amount of time you can stay connected or the speed of their network for free users. You might also be blocked from downloading large files or from viewing certain websites.

Alternatives to Wi-Fi?

Some data plans include a tethering allowance. Tethering allows you to connect to the internet through your smartphone’s data signal and could be a good alternative when you can’t find any free Wi-Fi hotspots. Learn how to get a good deal on your mobile contract with our My Money guide.

You can also use the Bluetooth technology on your phone to send data to another device that is within a short distance from your own, if their Bluetooth is switched on too.

And if you’re using up your data to keep yourself entertained when out of the house, don’t forget that many popular apps will allow you to listen to music and podcasts, read books, watch TV and play games offline for free by downloading them or creating playlists while you’re online, for later. Be warned that some of these may charge a subscription fee.

How can I get Wi-Fi in my home?

If you have access to wireless broadband at home, you can avoid eating into your data allowance when you’re online, by ensuring that your Wi-Fi is switched on in your smartphone’s settings.

Your broadband company will have provided you with a password to log-in and access your Wi-Fi with (this can often be found on the back of your router). If you don’t have wireless broadband in your home but would like to get it, check out our handy money saving guide.




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