This story is part Tips for the houseCNET’s collection of handy tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

It is almost impossible to live in the modern world without a strong internet connection. We learn online, Work at home on laptops and entertain us with our favorite shows and movies to streaming services. Stable Wi-Fi is crucial day in and day out.

What happens when you’re on the move, away from your Home Wi-Fi? Or if your internet at home isn’t it so fast in the first place?

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In this guide, we’ll quickly walk you through how to get online quickly using a hotspot, and how to find free Wi-Fi anywhere in the world. (You can also learn how to know if your wifi is slow due to internet throttling, how to speed up your wifi and our choices for the best VPNs.)

What is a hotspot?

A hotspot is a central location or device that provides wireless access to the Internet, and any network device can connect as long as it has the correct access. Depending on your mobile operator and plan, you may be able to use your smartphone as access point.

There are two different types of hotspots: public and private.

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In the above scenario where you have paid your mobile provider for the ability to create a hotspot with your smartphone, the smartphone is the physical device that creates wireless access for other Wi-Fi enabled devices. Fi, such as laptops, desktops, and streaming devices. . This is an example of a private hotspot.

A public hotspot is usually created by a business to provide internet service when visitors, customers, and customers are on site. Many free public Wi-Fi connections are hotspots. But for the sake of clarity, it’s important to note a difference between standard Wi-Fi and a hotspot.

What is the difference between Wi-Fi and a hotspot?

While hotspots are a physical location or device, Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that devices can use to exchange information with each other. If you have wifi at home, it’s because you have a wifi router that runs all your wireless gadgets and an internet service provider that connects that router to the internet.

As long as you set a strong password, a private Wi-Fi network like this will be more secure than a public hotspot because you control who and what connects to it. Public hotspots, on the other hand, are open to anyone within range, which is why it’s a good idea to use a VPN or another security measure if you need to do something sensitive, like shopping or sending money.

Read more: How to save up to $75 a month on your internet bill

A Telstra technician installs a 5G-enabled public Wi-Fi hotspot

A hotspot is a central location or device that provides wireless access to the Internet.

Brad Wagner/Telstra

How to find free Wi-Fi or free public hotspots

While this probably isn’t possible at home (unless you live very close to someone with an unsecured network), there are usually plenty of options for finding free Wi-Fi or public access points in businesses such as cafes, libraries, hotels, restaurants, fitness centers and more.

If you’re about to head out for the day in search of free Internet access, here are some useful apps to try:

Apps like these will show a map of your area with a list of free public Wi-Fi or hotspots available. Most will also allow you to track connection requirements and hotspot reviews.

Some places, like libraries, are usually a given for free public Wi-Fi, but if you’re not using a Wi-Fi finder app, it’s a good idea to call first to make sure .

How to set up and use free Wi-Fi

Make sure the device you plan to use is Wi-Fi enabled. If so, make sure Wi-Fi is turned on.

Once you have arrived at the location where you will be using public Wi-Fi or hotspot, open a browser and then open your computer’s network settings or click on the Wi-Fi icon on your screen. Next, select the public Wi-Fi connection you want to use. If the connection is public, you will now be connected, but wait for an opt-in site to appear in your browser. Some companies require you to agree to their terms of service or provide an email address before allowing you to use their free Wi-Fi.

Some companies provide a username and password to their customers and offer a secure network. If the connection you intend to use appears to be secure, look for the username and password displayed in the company or ask someone for help. And yes, if you’re somewhere like a cafe, it would be polite to buy a pastry or a cup of coffee while you’re there.

If you have configured your computer to automatically join available networks, the next time you visit this business, your computer will automatically join its network.

htc 5g hotspot device

This hotspot device from HTC uses an incoming 5G connection to provide Wi-Fi internet access to nearby wireless devices.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

How to set up and use a private hotspot

They’re not free, but if you need an internet connection at home and have a good cell signal, a paid hotspot might be a place to turn. For example, you may live in a rural area with limited ISP optionsor maybe the internet plans in your area are all over your budget.

Depending on your mobile carrier and the plan you pay for, you may already have personal hotspot capabilities. If not, speak with your provider to determine how much they will charge you for this option. Be prepared to pay more if you are looking for unlimited data.

After looking at the prices, you’ll need to decide between using your smartphone as a hotspot or buying a dedicated Wi-Fi hotspot device.

Check your phone settings for hotspot capabilities.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

Should I use my smartphone or another hotspot device?

A hotspot device will be considered a separate device on your mobile plan with its own separate data limit. The downside is the extra cost, but the upside is that you won’t have to worry about using your smartphone consuming your hotspot data. Another positive point: if you define a strong password, using a hotspot device to connect is just as secure as any Wi-Fi connection provided by an ISP, and it also often offers greater coverage. We are also seeing an increasing number of full-fledged Wi-Fi routers and mesh routers which are designed to get their incoming signal over a cellular connection, such as LTE or 5G.

Smartphone hotspots and dedicated hotspot devices can be used anywhere, although using a smartphone hotspot in public places may be more convenient, especially if you just try to bring your laptop online for a few minutes.

What Wi-Fi options does my ISP offer?

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission created the Keep Americans Connected initiative to help people maintain their broadband and phone connectivity during the pandemic. Additionally, vendors like Comcast extended free public Wi-Fi to everyone (both customers and non-customers) in 2020. Many providers offer extended benefits like this – if you’re having trouble, it’s worth checking with the providers in your area to see what your options are.

Whichever route you take, the bottom line is that you probably have more ways to connect than you think. I hope this guide will help you find them and take advantage of them. In the meantime, here are some additional readings that you may also find helpful:

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