Getting on the web is expensive. The average cost of a home internet connection in the United States is $60 per month. Don't fancy paying all that money? Don't worry; even if you don't have a regular ISP, there are still ways to go online.
From public Wi-Fi networks to cellular data, you still have multiple ways to access the internet without a broadband connection. So, here are some ways to get Wi-Fi without an Internet Service Provider.
1. Mobile Hotspot
The best way to ensure you have the internet on your laptop is to use a mobile hotspot. Today, most of us have smartphones with an LTE or even 5G cellular connection. So, why not use that instead of paying for a new broadband connection for your home?
Of course, there is an upfront cost to doing so—you will need to buy a hotspot device and subscribe to a mobile internet plan. However, quite a few companies offer mobile hotspots.
There are three mobile hotspot models we particularly recommend:
Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L
Despite being a couple of years old, the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L is probably still the best 4G hotspot available right now. It uses Qualcomm's X20 modem and supports 11 LTE bands. It provides both 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands, supports guest connections, and allows you to connect up to 15 devices to the network at once.
The device is only available through Verizon, and you can get the device for $99 if you sign up for a two-year mobile internet contract. It is $199 if you buy the device contract-free. Additionally, if you're looking for a faster 5G hotspot for your Verizon connection, you can also consider the Orbic Speed 5G UW.
HTC 5G Hub
If your cellular provider is Sprint or T-Mobile, the HTC 5G Hub is the best 5G mobile hotspot, provided you already have a 5G-capable smartphone.
The device has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU, a Snapdragon X50 5G modem, 4GB of RAM, support for Bluetooth and Ethernet connections, all-day battery life, and the ability to connect up to 20 devices at the same time. It runs Android.
On the downside, 5G is still not available everywhere. So if you're looking for a hotspot that will work when you're off the beaten path, the HTC 5G Hub might not be for you, especially considering its $600 price tag.
If you need temporary Wi-Fi while traveling outside of the United States, you need a mobile hotspot and internet plan that both work internationally.
For this reason, we like the GlocalMe DuoTurbo. It works in more than 140 countries, covers 270+ local operators, and has prices starting at $9/day for data. Device rental options are also available.
Of course, at those prices, it is not a suitable domestic option. But if you're on vacation and need to stay connected to home, it remains cheaper than using roaming internet on your smartphone.
2. Tether Your Smartphone or Tablet
If you don't need regular mobile data and instead just need occasional access to the internet on your laptop, the fastest and easiest way to get online is often to tether your smartphone.
Tethering your smartphone or tablet does have three major drawbacks.
- You're entirely dependent on the signal of your mobile phone carrier. That's fine if you're in a city but less reliable if you're out in the country.
- Your carrier may not support tethering or mobile hotspot. Some networks limit this functionality to higher-tier plans.
- Laptops typically use much more data than smartphones, meaning you could be in for a nasty surprise when your next phone bill lands in your mailbox.
If you have an Android device, you can enable tethering by heading to Settings > Network and Internet > Hotspot and Tethering > Wi-Fi Hotspot, then slide the toggle next to Wi-Fi Hotspot into the On position.
iOS users need to go to Settings > Personal Hotspot and slide the toggle.
On both Android and iOS, you should set a new username and password to protect the security of your hotspot.
3. Find a Public Wi-Fi Network
Depending on where you find yourself when you need to get internet without a provider, you might be able to jump on a nearby public Wi-Fi network. For example, libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, and transport hubs often have networks you can join.
You can find nearby free Wi-Fi using apps like Wi-Fi Master Key on Android and Wi-Fi Finder on iOS.
Note: Before joining a public Wi-Fi network, make sure you're aware of all the dangers associated with logging on to public Wi-Fi.
Download: Wi-Fi Master Key for Android (Free)
Download: Wi-Fi Connect for iOS (Free)
4. Use a Wi-Fi USB Dongle
A Wi-Fi USB dongle, a.k.a., an "internet stick," is a cheaper and more accessible version of a mobile hotspot and temporary Wi-Fi. Instead of committing to an expensive long-term mobile hotspot plan, you can insert a standard SIM card and use its data connection.
Because internet sticks for laptops are lighter and smaller than mobile hotspots, they are better suited for people who need a web connection while traveling. On the downside, don't expect signal strength, Wi-Fi speed, or range to be as good as using a hotspot device.
To learn more, check out our piece on the best Wi-Fi USB adapters.
5. Share Someone's Internet
There's a chance someone in your party might have an internet connection on their machine. For example, perhaps they have login credentials for a nearby private network, and you do not.
In those cases, you can share the bandwidth with a Windows or macOS machine.
To share an internet connection from a Windows computer, go to Settings > Network and Internet > Mobile Hotspot. Choose the connection you want to share and slide the toggle into the On position.
If you need to share an internet connection from a macOS device, go to Apple > System Preferences > Sharing > Internet Sharing. Choose the connection you want to share in the Share your connection from the drop-down menu, then select how you want to share the internet from the list of options underneath.
Understand Your Situation Before Choosing an Option
The best way to get Wi-Fi without an internet connection depends on where you are and how you want to use the connection. In rural areas, you may struggle to find a public Wi-Fi network, whereas you'll find them almost everywhere in a city.
That said, people who do a lot of work on the go should consider investing in a full-fledged mobile hotspot to connect to the internet wherever they are. But occasional casual users will be satisfied with tethering or an internet stick.