Blog Post

14 Ways to Find a Wi-Fi Signal

Web workers on the go live and die by connectivity. In the olden days this used to mean finding a spare ethernet drop at your client’s office, but fortunately, we’ve advanced since then. Now we get the bulk of our connectivity over the air using a variety of technologies.

While there are plenty of devices using things like EDGE and EVDO to tap in through the phone network, in most cases finding wireless connectivity means just one thing: finding an open Wi-Fi hotspot and hooking up to it. But how do you find those hotspots? There are more ways than you might be aware of; here are 14 of them.

Web Directories – For starters, you can try searching for a hotspot on the web. No one directory is comprehensive, so if you strike out in one it’s worth checking another.

  • JiWire has a database of nearly a quarter-million locations around the world, searchable by map or address. They also offer access to their database by iPhone, Skype, and desktop applications.
  • Hotspot Locations has a searchable database of 100,000 or so hotspots, as well as news and reviews.
  • WiFinder lists almost 40,000 hotspots, searchable by address.
  • comes from; there’s no mention of how many sites they cover, but I’ve found them to be fairly spotty.
  • Wi-Fi Free Spot provides listings by state and city, rather than a search interface, but they limit the results to free hotspots, which is convenient.
  • Another specialized option is the US Wireless Networks wiki, which concentrates on Wi-Fi in libraries.
  • If you’re looking for a place to stay, you can try the Quikbooks hotel search, which includes a category for “complimentary Wi-Fi”.

Social Networks – There’s a social network for everything these days, and Wi-Fi is no exception. The theory is that your Wi-Fi using peers are the best source of information.

  • In this category you can try WeFi, which boasts about 425,000 hot spots in its database. You can visit their site to search via Shockwave-based map, or download their client (released for Windows, beta for Mac) to get access to the information on your computer (as well as do the inevitable friend tracking).
  • Another user-driven database comes from Hotspotr, which features a Google Maps mashup for searching but only has about 8400 listings.
  • ILoveFreeWifi is another user-driven site, whose listings tend to have a bit more detail but whose database is concentrated on major cities.

Physical Detectors – If you just want to know whether a hotspot is nearby, you can use a detector that responds to Wi-Fi frequencies. These come in forms as diverse as keychains, USB keys, watches, and even t-shirts. Of course, just because you find a signal doesn’t mean there’s an open hotspot, but with no signal at all you can be sure you’re in the wrong place.

Even with this wealth of options, we likely missed something. Do you have your own preferred method of finding hotspots that’s not on our list? Share it with the rest of the WWD community in the comments!

4 Responses to “14 Ways to Find a Wi-Fi Signal”

  1. Yes, there’s a bit of chicken-and-egg problem there. But the websites are useful when you’re at a friend’s house and heading out for coffee, or at home planning a trip: find the hotspots before you get there.

  2. newbie

    I don’t get it – you list websites to help find hotspots, but if you’re looking for a hot spot, you obviously can’t get access to the internet to look on those websites!

  3. Great post.
    For a long time I was looking for a physical detectors that also shows the name of the wifi. Didn’t find a good one.

    However, now I found the perfect solution, my Nokia phone E65 shows the avialble networks including the name of them.

    Works great.