Getting on the web is expensive. In the United States, the average cost of a home internet connection 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.
Here’s how to get W-Fi without an internet service provider.
1. Mobile Hotspot
The best way to make sure you have internet on your laptop at all times is to use a mobile hotspot.
Of course, there is an upfront cost of doing so—you will need to buy a hotspot device and subscribe to a mobile internet plan.
Quite a few companies offer mobile hotspots. As with any pieces of technology, the price and quality vary dramatically.
There are three mobile hotspot models we particularly recommend:
The Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L is probably the best 4G hotspot available right now. It is the only model that uses Qualcomm’s X20 modem, meaning it can do five-carrier aggregation and supports 11 LTE bands. The hotspot typically enjoys much better reception that smartphones and tablets thanks to its two TS9 ports.
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.
The Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot Router is AT&T’s mobile hotspot device. If you need internet on-the-go for a laptop, it’s a great choice.
Under the hood, you will find a Qualcomm X16 modem that runs four spectrum channels. The device also shines when it comes to customization; unlike most hotspots, you can tweak a host of settings. They include port forwarding and filtering, options for UPnP, DLNA, and a DMZ, and dual-band 802.11ac support.
The hotspot is not so suitable for people who want to access the web while traveling. At 4.14 x 4.14 x 0.75 inches, and weighing in at 8.5 ounces, it is one of the larger devices you’ll come across.
It costs $89.99 with a two-year contract or $189.99 up front.
If you need a laptop internet while you’re traveling outside of the United States, you need a mobile hotspot and mobile internet plan that both work internationally.
We like the Roaming Man U2 Global 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. It works in more than 100 countries around the world and costs $9.99 per day no matter where you are.
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 is still much 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 two drawbacks. Firstly, 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. Secondly, 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, 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 Public Wi-Fi
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. 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 Connect on iOS.
Note: If you decide to join a public Wi-Fi network, make sure take steps to ensure your security and privacy are both safe. If you would like to learn more, check out our article on how to get free Wi-Fi internet access almost anywhere.
Download: Wi-Fi Master Key for Android (Free)
Download: Wi-Fi Finder Connect for iOS [No Longer Available] (Free)
4. Wi-Fi USB Dongle
A Wi-Fi USB dongle, a.k.a., an “internet stick,” is a cheaper and more accessible version of mobile hotspots. Instead of committing to an expensive long-term mobile internet plan, you can insert a standard 3G or 4G 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 Wi-Fi range to be as good as when using a USB dongle as when using a hotspot device.
If this option interests you, take a look at the best Wi-Fi USB adapters before you buy.
5. Share Someone’s Internet
There’s a chance that someone else 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 > 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.
Learn More About Using Wi-Fi
The best way to get Wi-Fi without an internet connection varies depending on where you are and how you want to use the connection.
People who do a lot of work on-the-go should consider a fully-fledged mobile hotspot. Occasional casual users might want to use tethering or buy an internet stick.