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Free WiFi connections

A few years ago (around 2010) while traveling in Italy and the UK, public places advertised free wifi but I could never get a connection because the "Free" wifi would only connect to local companies. (You would have to enter your local companies account password to connect). Is this still the case? Or will I be able to connect to local wifi connections in public places without all those roaming charges on my smart phone ( IPhone 5 ). At that time the only place we could connect to the internet was in the more expensive hotels, or use the hotels computer. Back then we were told that changing out the sim card would invalidate the phone's 2 year warranty, not sure if that's true.
Has anyone been there lately who can tell me if this is still a problem?
Thank You

Posted by
20718 posts

We had not had any problem with free internet. It is everywhere - bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. the quality of the connection can be a problem but access is there.

Posted by
31055 posts

db,

"Changing out the SIM card" will only work if the phone handset is unlocked. If it's locked to your home carrier, other SIM's won't work. If you're accessing internet via Wi-Fi, the SIM card isn't a concern anyway, as that only affects data access via the cellular network (which will attract potentially expensive data roaming charges).

I haven't been in the U.K. in a few years, so not sure what the situation with Wi-Fi access is there. In Italy it seems to be necessary to be registered in some way and have a password. That's certainly true at hotels, and in some cases the password changes on a daily basis. I vaguely recall that McDonald's provides a password on receipts, which limits the service to customers only for a pre-defined time.

Posted by
1772 posts

WiFi was easier this year than when I went in 2011 but it's still Wifi. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, never secure for anything important.

Posted by
1406 posts

Richard is right, it's quite widespread nowadays, folks in the tourism biz realize they need to offer this to attract folks. Like motels used to advertise free HBO back in the day.

Just keep in mind that even if it's "free" you still need the login info that is given only to guests or customers. In Switzerland and France when we checked into our hotels this info is provided on a slip of paper along with your room keys.

Posted by
11173 posts

What you are describing is common in the US as well. For instance, at some New Jersey train stations, there are big signs saying Free WiFi At This Station - and in smaller letters, clarifying that it's Optimum WiFi, which is only available and free for Optimum customers. If you are not an Optimum customer, no WiFi for you!

Sometimes to access WiFi in a public place like an airport, you have to get a text message on your phone, then input the code from that message on a website. So, if you don't have a phone that will work in the country, you can't log on. I've never encountered this in hotels, and almost never in restaurants; there, you just ask them for the name of the router, and for the code.

The other posts are right - WiFi in hotels is becoming an expected amenity, like hot running water. The more expensive the hotel, the more likely you have to pay for it; at cheaper and smaller places, it tends to be free. However, the strength and reliability of the signal varies tremendously (at all price ranges). Often the rooms closest to the router have the strongest signal, so changing rooms may help. Some hotels only have WiFi in the lobby, or on certain floors (given the demand for this, they tend to put this on their website, to avoid complaints).

Some hotels require you to go to a website to complete the login (again, in the US as well as Europe). In many of these circumstances, I found that Firefox would not work, but Internet Explorer did. Once I had logged on, I could close IE, and Firefox worked fine.

Italy is a special case; at least a few years ago, they had strict laws designed to catch Internet predators and terrorists, which required you to show a passport to log in at an Internet Cafe or buy a SIM card, and which made public WiFi very difficult. I don't know if this has changed. It was never a problem at hotels, since they have your passport information already; you just get the login code at the desk when checking in, like everywhere else.

Posted by
20 posts

Thank You all, this is very helpful information. Thank You for taking the time to reply.

Posted by
8906 posts

Free WiFi At This Station - and in smaller letters, clarifying that
it's Optimum WiFi, which is only available and free for Optimum
customers. If you are not an Optimum customer, no WiFi for you!

Not so. I use NJ Transit as well, and non-Optimum customers absolutely can access the free Wifi you refer to. You just have to click the link "non-optimum customer" link, enter a phony email address and you get free internet, no strings attached.

But getting back to the original question, when I was in Geneva and nice last April, I did encounter similar problems you described. A lot of the free wifi (starbuck-McDonalds-Swiss Rail)required one to enter a mobile number in order to receive a text message which included a password for the free the wifi. Since I don't have a mobile phone the works in Europe and can't receive texts, the hot spots were useless:(

Posted by
1406 posts

in Switzerland we would frequently encounter free hotspots from Swisscom, I don't think they required a password but did want login.

Posted by
17724 posts

A few years ago I was in Innsbruck, and they had "free WLAN" (Europe's name for WiFi) all over town. I could connect to most Internet websites to get travel info, but it would not connect to an Internet email provider, like Hotmail.

Posted by
823 posts

With regards to free WIFI in Italy, the government tightly regulates it as part of their anti-terrorism efforts. While Trenitalia and each major city we visited had "free WIFI', you had to be registered with them to get access.

In most of the Italian cities I visited, simply texting the WIFI service provider would get an access code as a response. Usually, this would only get you 30-60 minutes of free WIFI but that's better than nothing.

The Trenitalia free WIFI required a telecom (TIM?) log-in. If you didn't have TIM for cellular, an account cost a nominal 1 euro cent...

Hotel WIFI, while "free" was usually abysmal proving that you really do get what you pay for.

My next trip to Italy, I'm taking unlocked phones and getting local prepaid SIM cards. I'm also considering a tablet with an unlocked GSM transceiver.

Another good reason to have a fully functional cell phone, most taxi services and even a couple city bus services in Italy allowed hailing via SMS text. They even conveniently placed QRC codes at the taxi stands/bus stops to facilitate the process.

Cell phones are good for something after all...

Todd

Posted by
20 posts

Thank you so much, Todd, I'm think the unlocked phone and prepaid sim cards maybe the way to go. Do you have any recommendations for something that might be good all over we will be in Italy, Prague and England? Or would it be cheaper to by different cards for different areas? Any thoughts?

Posted by
823 posts

dblacoe,

Although I've never researched voice and data roaming across European borders, I imagine it might be cheaper to by a SIM in whatever country you are visiting. Depending on where your trip starts, you might want to inquire about roaming charges in the countries you are planning to visit next.

I generally visit only one country at a time so this isn't a situation I've come up against. Sorry I couldn't be more definitive.

Todd

Posted by
1406 posts

Search this site, Euro cell phones is a frequent topic

Posted by
30 posts

Just back from Italy, and we were able to get WIFI on our U.S. iphones almost everywhere it was advertised. Gellato places, restaurants, airport, etc in Rome, Florence, Sienna, Cinque Terre, Venice. We couldn't get it to work on one Trenitallia high speed train, but it did work on the other. For those we had to register a credit card that charged us one cent. We couldn't get it to work in the Roma Termini though.

Posted by
722 posts

We found a lot of places in England last month that offered real free wifi - a cafe at Avebury, a coffee shop in Glastonbury, the cafe at Stonehenge, and so on - some small places and we didn't have to do more than accept the terms of service. We weren't in any big cities but I would think free wifi would be even more common there.

Posted by
20 posts

Thank You every one, I just wanted to follow up. We went to Milan, Florence (IT), Lugano (SZ), Prague (CR), Colchester, & Stroud (UK). I have an IPhone and under settings I went to my "cellular" setting, turned everything off except my "cellular data" and used only wifi. Unlike my last European visit, I was able to get internet access, usually with a password graciously provided by many of the local places we went to. There were a few places where we needed to ask for the password, but most places had a little sign posted with the domain name and password. We were able to send e-mails and photos without any problem at all. :)