Friday, 09 October 2020 22:24

WiFi Map app and website makes discovering public WiFi hotspots easy


Not everyone has dozens of gigabytes on their mobile plan to burn through each month, and unless you're on Vodafone's new Infinite mobile phone plans in Australia with 2mbps, 10mbps or 25mbps speeds after using your monthly data allocation, free WiFi is more available than ever.

WiFi Map, which is both a website and an app (on iOS and for Android), helps people to find free WiFi hotspots wherever they are, whether in their home cities, travelling domestically, or if you're able to and brave enough, travelling internationally.

Of course, it isn't the only app or site out there that does this, and while there is a free component to the app which does actually give full access to the WiFi hotspot list, you will need to see some quick ads to access the full list. You can also use the website to freely find local WiFi hotspots), but the app does have a paid "Pro" component that removes all ads and gives full VPN functionality. .

The list of free WiFi hotspots amounts to well over 100 million, with the data crowdsourced and added to by users. Adding hotspots, running speed tests and leaving reviews of hotspots you discover can earn you points, and when 2000 points are earned, you can eliminate all the ads without paying for Pro.

The app uses the power of that crowdsourced data and "proprietary AI" to monitor performance at all locations, so the app is only meant to display to users hotspot locations of known high quality.

If hotspots nearby have passwords, as is the case in some establishments, and people have shared them, the app will also provide you the passwords for these hotspots where available.

I had a look and saw 3173 hotspots listed in Sydney, 267 in Canberra and more elsewhere. It's important to know where free hotspots are in Canberra for example, as the free Canberra WiFi service used to only let you download 250MB before it decided you've had enough data for the day, and while this has now been raised to 1GB, it's still a limit.

Other hotspots can have limits too, but this is where you can list this info in the WiFi Map app. The app can also be used to set up the eSIM in your phone for paid 3G or 4G access to data, and while it's probably more expensive than getting a SIM card locally when travelling, it does give you paid access to data when there are no hotspots anywhere - more details on that below.

VPN in the Pro mode

If you pay for the app, you not only remove all the ads, but much more usefully, you get the real feature of the Pro version, which is having access to the built-in VPN. When using free WiFi, using a VPN is recommended as it stops others on the same network from snooping on your activities. With a VPN, insecure WiFi hotspots become safe to use, as your traffic is encrypted and not visible to others.

Of course, if you already have a VPN, this might not be enough to convince you to go Pro. In the US, this is $29.99 per year, which is about $46 in Australian dollars, and while there is also a monthly fee option rather than paying for an entire year in one go, you can get Pro access for VPN usage (and ad elimination) for a cheaper price by signing up to a Pro subscription via the WiFi Map website, and then logging into the app using the username and password you signed up with.

It's important to note that you don't need to pay for the app to get access to ALL of the hotspots in its database, but you may need to see an ad or ads for the full list in an area. Seeing a few ads is an acceptable tradeoff to get free access to the full list of WiFi hotspots wherever you're travelling. 

Earning points by contributing to the crowdsourced database

In addition, it'd worth stating again that users who freely register in the app can earn points by sharing new hotspots in the app.

Registering in the WiFi Map app earns you 150 points. Adding a new WiFi hotspot earns you 100 points. Updating the information about a hotspot earns you 5 points, with another 5 points that can be earned by running a WiFi speed test, and another 5 points by leaving a review.

The company in its FAQ states that ads will automatically be disabled once you reach 2000 points.

eSIM access

The app can also activate the eSIM in your phone, if it has one, and offers you a data plan at a low cost when there just isn't any WiFi available where you are for whatever reason, you don't have a local SIM activate and yet you still need to get online!

In Australia, it costs 9.99 Euros for 1GB valid for 30 days, which is A$16.43 as I type. The WiFi Map app has paid plans for the US, Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the world, all offering 1GB of data for 30 days, most at 9.99 Euros, except the "World" plan which is more expensive, but seeing as the World plan still only offers 1GB for 30 days, not many people will go for that one, and especially not in late 2020 where free and easy travel is so much more difficult due to expensive airfares and fewer planes in the sky.

It's also important to note that this isn't the only way to get an eSIM activated, and there are presumably more competitive plans out there. There are other eSIM apps in the App Store and Google Play Store, and you can go to phone stores in an airport or in cities to get either a regular SIM or to activate an eSIM, but having this functionality in the WiFi Map app is a handy inclusion if you ever find yourself needing it. 

All of that said, people are still able to travel domestically in most countries, there ARE still planes flying in the sky, and while a vaccine is yet to be found, the need for free WiFi will never go away.

The makers of WiFi Map also note they have had a huge spike in new users over the last six months, which is also because the lockdowns and the economic recession caused by COVID-19 has seen people wanting to cut costs, which for some people even means going on a cheaper phone plan or home broadband NBN plan, most of which come with limits that mean you can run out of data.

So, using free WiFi is the only answer if you need connectivity when out and about and don't have enough data left on your phone, and don't want to top up your plan or account as yet.

An offline map facility will soon be activated to allow users to find hotspots without being connected to WiFi first, which will presumably work by letting you download map data to be used offline when you are online in the first place.

Businesses can add their venues to WiFi Map and get more exposure to local customers and travellers, while developers can access the WiFi Map SDK/API so they can add this functionality to their own apps if desired.

There are also plenty of laptops, iPads, iPod touches and tablets that have WiFi only, and while there is Telstra Air in Australia, which is like FON network of free hotspots for users of certain telecoms companies, but not everyone is a Telstra or FON customer able to get free access to those hotspots.

Denis Sklyarov, CEO at WiFi Map said: “The entire premise of WiFi Map is to provide free and accessible internet to people worldwide and save them money.

“Despite the digital age, there are households that have no broadband or WiFi, whereas the majority of devices — tablets, iPads, computers and iPod Touches — are WiFi only, with most phones connected to WiFi at school, home and the office.

"A lot of users have prepaid data plans which often don’t come with very large data limits, at least at the cheaper price points. Where unlimited mobile data plans exist, they can dramatically slow down connection speeds once they reach a certain gigabyte threshold.

"In this context, a crowdsourced WiFi finder saves the day: people help each other to stay connected by contributing knowledge of free WiFi hotspots to the map in our app.

"Australian travellers, who can't leave the country as yet, can get to know their own homeland and can get free access to hotspots wherever they are, even in their home cities.

“It kind of goes with Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs — food, shelter, and in the modern ago, WiFi.

“The more people who understand it and add known WiFi locations, the more coverage our app provides, and the more people we can help.

“Our job is to give users as much information as possible so they can make an educated decision on which WiFi they’d like to connect to,” Sklyarov concluded.

WiFi Map's official video is below:

View this post on Instagram

❗️ WiFi Map Giveaway ❗️ ⠀ We want to use the chance to say thank you for being with us and using #WiFiMap to all the amazing people out there. ⠀ Here’s how to enter: ⠀ 1️⃣ Follow @wifimap 2️⃣ Like this post 3️⃣ Tag 2 your amazing friends in the comments (unlimited entries) more tags — more chances to win! ⠀ ? List of presents: ⠀ ✔️ 100$ ✔️ 50$ ✔️ 3 free PRO subscription ⠀ Giveaway closes on September 5, 2020, at 23:59. The winners will be chosen using a random name generator @lizaonair. ⠀ *Money prizes for the US only *PRO subscription — global ⠀ Don’t miss out! ⠀ #WiFiMap #travel #tech #trip #freewifi #WiFi #VPN #connection #digital #security#communication #trip #traveladvices #travel2020 #roadtrip

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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