Running low on mobile data? Slow internet speeds on your smartphone? Need to work on a laptop while out in public?
You need a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots for free. You might even be paying for access to a premium Wi-Fi hotspot through your mobile carrier or Internet Service Provider (ISP).
This article will explore:
- Different types of Wi-Fi hotspots
- How to find free Wi-Fi hotspots
- Apps from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store to help you find Wi-Fi hotspots
- Which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide free Wi-Fi hotspots
What Is a Wi-Fi Hotspot?
A Wi-Fi hotspot provides internet access to any mobile device or laptop capable of using Wi-Fi.
Technically, your home Wi-Fi router is no different from a “Wi-Fi hotspot”. But the term generally refers to public hotspots — internet connections available in public places, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s.
There are several different types of Wi-Fi hotspots.
Free Wi-Fi Hotspots
Many Wi-Fi hotspots are available for free. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are often available at coffee shops, airports, and hotels. Sometimes free Wi-Fi hotspots limit the amount of time or data available to free users.
Some free Wi-Fi hotspots require users to register to use them. This usually means creating a username or password that can be used next time you want to connect to a hotspot offered by that provider.
Some free Wi-Fi hotspots don’t require registration. Free, open Wi-Fi hotspots can be unsecured networks and might be unsafe.
If it’s essential to connect to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network, be sure to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to keep your network traffic private.
Pay-Per-Use Wi-Fi Hotspots
Some Wi-Fi hotspots charge users for connecting, either per session, per minute, or according to the amount of data used. Users can pay by credit card or via PayPal to use the connection.
Other Wi-Fi hotspot operators use a pre-paid, rolling subscription model.
Pay-per-use Wi-Fi hotspots are more common in settings such as hospitals, libraries, and airports.
Check out our Guide to Internet Speed
Internet Service Provider Wi-Fi Hotspots
Certain Internet Service Providers (ISPs) bundle exclusive access to high-speed Wi-Fi hotspots with certain home broadband packages, including AT&T and Xfinity (Comcast).
Customers on certain Verizon Fios plans also used to get access to Wi-Fi hotspots, but Verizon no longer offers this service.
Mobile Network Operator Wi-Fi Hotspots
Some mobile network operators offer access to free hotspots for their customers with data plans.
For example, Spectrum Mobile offers access to over half a million mobile hotspots across the United States.
Personal Wi-Fi Hotpots
There are several ways to generate a personal Wi-Fi hotspot using a portable or mobile device.
Personal Wi-Fi hotspot devices connect to mobile data networks and share the connection, allowing the “tethering” of one or more devices.
Types of Personal Wi-Fi Hotspot
Several types of device can generate personal Wi-Fi hotspots, that will be available whenever 3G, 4G, or 5G mobile data networks are in range:
- Portable router — A small, battery-powered modem/router
- Mobile Wi-Fi dongle — A USB device that can plug into a laptop
- Mobile phone/tablet — Most mobile phones allow Wi-Fi hotspots/tethering, allowing you to share your mobile data with any other Wi-Fi-capable device. Some mobile network operators, such as Verizon, only allow this at an additional cost.
How Do I Set Up a Wi-Fi Hotspot on Android?
To set up a Wi-Fi hotspot on your Android device and share your mobile data, follow these steps:
- Open the Settings menu
- Tap “Network and Internet or Connections”
- Tap “Mobile Hotspot and Tethering”
- Toggle “Wi-Fi Hotspot” or “Mobile Hotspot” on
- You may get a message warning you about battery consumption and data usage. Tap “OK”
- Tap “Password” to set a password for your Wi-Fi hotspot
Now open the Wi-FI settings of the device that you want to connect, enter your password, and you should be connected to your Android device’s mobile data connection.
With newer versions of Android, you can also access the Mobile Hotspot function from the draw-down menu of the notifications bar.
How Do I Set Up a Wi-Fi Hotspot on iPhone or iPad?
To set up a Wi-Fi hotspot on your iPhone or iPad (iOS) and share your mobile data, follow these steps:
- Open the Settings menu
- Tap “Cellular” or “Personal Hotspot”
- Toggle “Personal Hotspot” on
- Tap “Wi-Fi Password” and set a password
With newer versions of iOS, you can also access the Personal Hotspot function from the draw-down Control Centre.
How to Find Wi-Fi Hotspots
There are several ways to find Wi-Fi hotspots.
How Do I Find Wi-Fi Hotspots in My Area?
One way to find Wi-Fi hotspots is to simply open up the Wi-Fi settings on a mobile device or laptop, and see what public networks are available.
However, this is a risky tactic — certain unknown public Wi-Fi networks can be unsafe. It’s better only to use recognized Wi-Fi hotspots from a reputable provider.
There are several hotspot finder mobile apps for Android and iOS that can help locate secure Wi-Fi hotspots. Here are two examples:
- WiFi Map — for Android or iOS, also provides VPN access and community-sourced Wi-Fi passwords.
- WiFi Finder — for Android or iOS, allows users to test the speed and reliability of public Wi-Fi networks.
How Do I Find Spectrum Wi-Fi Hotspots?
- To find Spectrum Wi-Fi Hotspots, download the Spectrum WiFi Finder app for iOS or Android.
- If you’re not a Spectrum customer, you can get a 30-minute free trial if you find a “Spectrum WiFi” or “Cable WiFi” hotspot.
How Do I Find Xfinity/Comcast Wi-Fi Hotspots?
To find an Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot:
- Open the Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot Map in your browser, or
- Download the Xfinity WiFi Hotspots app for Android or iOS
Xfinity provides up to 40 hours of Xfinity WiFi Hotspot access every 30 days to Performance Starter, Internet Essentials, and Prepaid Instant TV customers.
Other Xfinity customers can purchase hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly Xfinity WiFi On Demand Passes.
How Do I Find AT&T Wi-Fi Hotspots?
- To find AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot locations, use the AT&T Wi-Fi Locator map.
- When in range, AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots will appear as “attwifi” in the list of available Wi-Fi connections.
- Use your primary AT&T account username and password to log in.