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How can I access the internet in public spaces?

Man using laptop in an airport lounge

You may not always be at home when you want to go online. Perhaps you're out shopping for the morning and want to see if an important email has arrived, or perhaps you’re on a long journey and fancy visiting a few of your favourite websites. Read on to find out how you can access the net when you’re out and about.

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

There are three basic ways of getting onto the internet while you’re out. You can possibly access it on your mobile but for this article, we’ll assume you want to sit down and browse the web and that you have a web-based email account.

The remaining two ways of getting onto the web are with your own computer and using someone else’s – one at an internet café being the obvious example.


If you have your own laptop with you and it’s no more than a couple of years old, then there’s every chance it will have a Wi-Fi card built in. This means it will detect wireless networks and join them where possible.

You could also have one of the new breed of tablet computers. These slim-line machines have large touchscreens that make swiping your way through the internet easy. And almost every single one can connect to the internet through Wi-Fi (some also can use a mobile 3G connection).

Publicly-available internet spaces where you can use someone else’s Wi-Fi are called ’hotspots’. There are many of these available. You can, for example, join a BT Openzone hotspot, and for a small amount of money you’ll get an hour’s internet access.

You might, however, find it preferable to go to one of the many coffee shops, bars and other places where you can join a hotspot for nothing - as long as you buy something. Several membership establishments also offer free Wi-Fi to members.

Libraries and internet cafés

You might be without your computer for a particular reason. Maybe you don’t have a computer of your own. In this case a trip to your local library will get you onto the net - most have several internet terminals, but often a queue to go with them.

You’ll need some ID or your membership card, and you’ll need to sign an assurance that you won’t download anything to which you don’t own the rights or which is going to be deemed offensive. They will issue a user name and password and then you just wait your turn to use a terminal.

The alternative is to go to an internet café, where they will be pleased to serve you coffee and sit you in front of a computer. Unlike a public library, an internet café is run as a private business so you can expect an hourly charge for using the net.

A final thought is that many places of travel, such as airports and train stations, make some provision for Wi-Fi or for internet terminal users. Have a look around where you are – you’ll probably find something.

The WebWise 'W'

WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.