Public Wi-Fi and Mobile Wi-Fi Networks

public-wi-fi-iconPublic  Wi-Fi is available in many countries and locations, and is provided by a variety of organisations.

In many cases it is free, but there are also subscription and pay as you go access options.

Public Wi-fi access points are growing, and public Wi-fi is expected to play a very big role in the future of the Internet of things (IOT).

Note: The term public Wi-Fi is used to denote Wi-Fi that is available in public locations and not free Wi-Fi.

Who Provides Public Wi-Fi Access?

  • Many small businesses like B&Bs, restaurants,hair salons etc provide free public Wi-fi to their customers.
  • Local councils provide free access in libraries, municipal buildings etc
  • Airport operators provide access in airports
  • Commercial Wireless operators provide access e.g. FON and Cloud

Main UK Public Wi-Fi Providers (Commercial)

There are Three main public Wi-Fi providers in the UK

  • BT
  • SKY
  • O2
  • Virgin Media

Although these are commercial companies, but they do provide some free access.

BT WiFI or BT with FON or BT Openzone

BT started providing public Wifi in association with the FON network back in 2007.

They started by calling it BT with FON and then moved to BT Openzone and are now calling it BTWiFi. Hence the different names but all referring to the same service.

Links- BT Wi-Fi

SKY- The Cloud

Sky provide public Wi-Fi hotspots under the name the cloud.

These hotspots are mainly in the high street and are provided in association with many of the large chains like:

  • JD Wetherspoons
  • PizzaExpress
  • Network Rail
  • Pret a Manger

If you are a Sky broadband customer then you have free unlimited access to these hotspots.

If you aren’t a Sky broadband customer then you can purchase an access package.

Links- Sky Wi-Fi

O2 Wi-Fi

You will need to register but then it is free even if you’re not an O2 customer.

Hotspots are provided in association with businesses like :

  • McDonalds
  • Pizza Hut
  • Matalan

Links – O2 FAQ

Virgin Media

Unsure about the status of virgin media who are proposing to offer access similar to BT-Fon.  See Virgin Media’s free public Wi-Fi initiative delayed to 2016

Municipal Providers

Many local authorities are offering free public Wi-fi in municipal buildings and city wide (examples –York,Glasgow, Birmingham).

This area is expected to grow but will probably only cover major city centres.

Accessing Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

There are three connection types that you will encounter:

  • Encrypted
  • Open but requires user ID and password
  • Open

In general you will just select the desired network form a network list (if more than one is available) and click connect.

Most Coffee shops,hotels etc provide secured Wi-fi but make the password freely available to their customers.

Unsecured Public networks usually don’t require an encryption key to connect, but they may require a username/password (not normally).

Setting Up Public Wi-Fi Access For Your Business

If you have a small business e.g. a coffee shop,hair salon etc you may want to provide Wi-Fi access for your customers.

Many small businesses simply provide their customers with the access password.

Although this works it is very insecure as what you have done is to also provide them with access to your local network.


If you want to isolate your local network from public customers then you will need a router/access point that supports DD-WRT.

This feature when configured correctly will let the customer access the Internet but not your local network. See this article for details

Public Wi-Fi Problems

Currently the main problem is that coverage is very patchy, and it doesn’t support roaming.

This means that you can’t walk down the street and remain connected like you can on your mobile phone.

Public networks found in coffee shops etc are vulnerable to various forms of attacks, and so it is important that you treat them as unsecured connections, and avoid accessing bank accounts, email etc when using them.

If you want to access personal information then you should always ensure that the connection is secured using a VPN or SSL connections.

Useful Resources:

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