Q: I have had increasing issues connecting to WiFi with my phone from free access locations at airports and motels. I get messages like “server not available” or “cannot connect to server”. So far, I have gotten around the problem by turning off WiFi and relying on cellular connection. However, I want to solve the problem, because once we are traveling to Canada we will rely on WiFi to send emails. Any explanation or suggested remedy?
A: I often times see the same thing coming from free wireless connections. In many cases you have to chalk it up to you get what you pay for. These free Wi-Fi connections are many times not very good and even more often don’t work. I find this to be very prevalent in airports.
But there are a couple of other things to consider when you connect to the free Wi-Fi hotspot. I’m finding more more often that these hotspots require you to open the Safari browser after you make connection to them and agree to some hold harmless agreement. I think the lawyers have gotten involved and people who offer free Wi-Fi are afraid someone will use the Wi-Fi for illegal purposes. They allow you to connect, but unless you immediately go to Safari and agree to their license agreement, which often comes up automatically if you run Safari immediately after connection, you don’t actually have any Internet access.
The other possibility is that some of these are not truly free Wi-Fi sites. They may be connections other people are offering from their computers in the hopes of someone connects Then, once connected, they are able to scan their computer for private information. It’s very hard to do this on the Mac, and nearly impossible on an iPhone or iPad, but on a Windows machine if you connect to one of these fake hotspots, and don’t have your firewall turned on, a thief can scan your computer for all kinds of private personal information. People create these fake access points hoping to get unsuspecting individuals to connect to them. Nothing to really worry about with a Mac or an iPhone, but frustrating because they act exactly as your are describing when you try to connect to the Internet.
Finally, many free wireless hotspots, particularly at hotels, will not allow you to send email. They block the email ports in the Internet connection to keep you from using their systems to send out spam. I found this happen a lot in nicer hotels. In fact, when I was traveling for business, it almost went without saying that if you paid for Wi-Fi at a hotel, it would always have mail blocked.
The best thing I can tell you, is to only connect to the hotspots that your sure are legitimate. If a business says they offer a hotspot, it’s usually a good one to connect to. But if you see one named something similar to “Free public Wi-Fi” I find 90% of the time these are scams so only connect to one that you’re familiar with. Also keep in mind that the only benefit of providing a free Wi-Fi connection to a business is marketing, so restaurants, and hotels, tend to put their names in the Wi-Fi connection. If you see an unlocked connection with an odd name you’re not familiar with it’s probably not one you want to connect to.
Those are just some of my thoughts. Rest of shared, it’s not you or your devices that are having the problem, Everybody sees the same thing and has the same problems.