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27th August, 2020

A guide to Wi-Fi hotspots: finding free Wi-Fi near me

Max Beckett
Max Beckett

Broadband expert

Being connected to the internet has become such a huge part of our lives that when you can’t connect and you need to, it can be really frustrating. Luckily, there are plenty of public Wi-Fi hotspots that you can connect to if you ever find yourself out and about without mobile data – and some are even free.

Here’s how you can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots, and how you can keep your devices safe while doing so.

What is a Wi-Fi hotspot?

A Wi-Fi hotspot provides an internet connection that members of the public can join when they are out and about. You can normally find public Wi-Fi spots at places like coffee shops, libraries, train stations, museums, restaurants and many more. Look out for signs advertising free Wi-Fi — you’ll often have to log in with some of your details to use it. 

Free Wi-Fi hotspots near me – how to find public Wi-Fi

Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire way to find reliable, free public Wi-Fi in the UK. But there are lots of companies, spaces and venues that do offer free Wi-Fi hotspots, you just need to know where to look.

Firstly, you might already have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot network without knowing it through your broadband or mobile phone package.  

Who offers Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK?

Depending on who you have your broadband or mobile phone contract with, you might be able to access a whole network of Wi-Fi hotspots for free. And even if you aren’t a customer, most of these Wi-Fi hotspot networks will let you connect for a small fee. Check out the different providers below to see what you can access.

Sky Wi-Fi hotspots

Sky Wi-Fi (also called The Cloud) has a huge network of hotspots across the UK that’s completely free for Sky customers to connect to with unlimited use and downloads.

If you are not a Sky customer, you will need to register for Sky Wi-Fi and then you will be able to access various Sky Wi-Fi hotspots. Some of these Wi-Fi hotspots will require you to buy access, while other venues will give you a few minutes of free access before you need to pay – great if you need to quickly check something or send an email. 

Find your nearest Sky Wi-Fi hotspot here.

Virgin Wi-Fi hotspots

If you are a Virgin Media customer, you will have free access to more than three million public Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK. To get started, you will need to download the Virgin Media Connect app. Once set up, you will automatically connect to any Virgin Media Wi-Fi hotspots. 

Virgin also powers the Wi-Fi hotspots across the London Underground. The service covers around 97% of the underground stations – but there’s no coverage in the tunnels between stations. To connect to the London Underground Wi-Fi for free you need to be a Virgin, O2, EE, Three or Vodafone customer. If you are not with one of those networks, you can also buy a Wi-Fi Pass if you need to get online.

O2 Wi-Fi hotspots

O2 Wi-Fi boasts a network of more than 16,000 hotspots spread across the UK which are completely free to use – even if you aren’t an O2 customer. 

O2 Wi-Fi prides itself on being really easy to use, so it doesn’t ask for any usernames or passwords to get online.

If you are an O2 customer, you will automatically connect once registered. Of course, nothing in this life is actually free. If you aren’t an O2 customer, you will need to confirm that you are OK to receive offers from O2 and its selected partners.

Find your nearest O2 Wi-Fi hotspot here

BT Wi-Fi hotspots

BT claims to have over five million Wi-Fi hotspots set up across the UK, making it the largest provider of public Wi-Fi spots. And if you’re a BT broadband or BT mobile customer, you will have access to every single one of those hotspots for free.

If you aren’t a BT customer, you will have to buy access to use a BT Wi-Fi hotspot. You can either pay hourly, daily, weekly or monthly and the price ranges from £4 up to £39. 

Find your nearest BT Wi-Fi hotspot here.

UK high street brands with public Wi-Fi hotspots

It is becoming more and more common for high street brands to offer Wi-Fi to its customers. If you are out and need to get online, finding one of these stores below might just be the solution. 

The following UK high street brands have committed to providing their customers with Wi-Fi access: 

  • Starbucks

  • Costa Coffee

  • Caffé Nero

  • McDonalds

  • Burger King

  • KFC

  • Greggs

  • Marks & Spencer

  • John Lewis

  • Tesco

  • Asda

  • Natwest 

  • Barclays

  • Topshop

While the list above isn’t exhaustive, it shows you that the odds of finding public Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK are quite good!                  

Is public Wi-Fi safe? 

Free public Wi-Fi is really convenient, but it can also open you up to potential security threats. Because hotspots are so freely available and easy to join, they can attract hackers. There are two main types of ‘attacks’ that hackers carry out on public Wi-Fi hotspots that you need to be aware of. 

‘Man-in-the-middle’ attacks

A man-in-the-middle attack is when a hacker sits in between yourself and the public Wi-Fi network that you’ve joined, intercepting any details you put into websites that you visit – this can include passwords, credit card details and browsing history.

Fake hotspots

Hackers can also create very real-looking public Wi-Fi hotspots that are open to join. These spoof networks are designed to do one thing, lure you into joining. Once you connect to one of these hotspots, a hacker can then view any sensitive information you enter. 

How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

Given the risks associated with connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots, there are some things that you can do to keep yourself safe. 

  • Do not let your device automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks – this will reduce the risk of you joining a fake hotspot.

  • Do not buy anything while connected to a public Wi-Fi spot.

  • Do not browse websites that will hold your personal details like online banking. 

  • Always check that the sites you visit use ‘https, rather than ‘http’ (look for a padlock icon in the address bar).

  • Use a VPN service if you have one. Read more about VPNs here.

Alternatives to public Wi-Fi hotspots: MiFi and personal hotspots

If finding and using a public Wi-Fi hotspot is too much hassle, but you want to get online while on the move, consider using a MiFi device or a personal hotspot. 

MiFi

A MiFi device is a small bit of tech that creates a Wi-Fi hotspot by connecting to a mobile network. Because it creates a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can connect a number of devices to the internet at the same time – like a laptop or tablet. This pocketable, personal hotspot will let you get online wherever there is ample signal and is more secure than using public Wi-Fi hotspots. 

Read more about MiFi broadband.

Personal hotspots

Your mobile phone might be able to act as a personal hotspot, creating a Wi-Fi connection for your other devices to connect to. If it can, this solution is also more secure than using public Wi-Fi hotspots. However, it can quickly eat through your mobile data which can prove costly.