With warm spring weather and sunny days coming into season across the U.S., savvy small business owners are taking advantage of the freedom that free WiFi hot spots have to offer. With a variety of search engines offering searchable databases of free WiFi access points, your next sunny work day may be just a few clicks away.

WiFi access, once limited to high-end coffee houses and executive style hotels, is becoming more and more common through the United States and the world. Cities that are looking to revitalize downtown foot traffic are starting to offer free WiFi hot spots throughout the downtown area in order to attract more business and more visitors. Long Beach, California began offering free WiFi to downtown visitors in 2003. Tempe, Arizona is in the process of putting together city-wide WiFi access as this is published. Even now, dozens of retail stores, hotels and restaurants offer access, meaning that you'll often have no trouble finding a place to connect.

Inspired by the fact that I'm sitting in my comfy Google bean bag chair in my back yard with my daughter and dog enjoying themselves, I decided to take some time to compile some great resources for those of you that have joined me in the wonderful world of wireless Internet connections and laptop computers.The freedom of working from home that was offered by the increased availability of affordable broadband access has now gone a step further with WiFi hot spots popping up across the world. Would you rather spend your next business lunch ordering in and sitting in a stuffy conference room, or dining al fresco near a peaceful fountain? Me too! So take a few minutes to try one of the sites below, then set out with your laptop in tow for a sunny afternoon relaxing in a park, at a cafe, or anywhere else your heart desires.

Google Local Search

Visiting Google's Local Search site and typing the phrase "free WiFi" in along with an address will generate a list of businesses offering free WiFi access within a 1, 5, 15 or 45 mile radius of your location. The businesses are listed along the left side of the page with full addresses, phone numbers and a brief description. On the right side of the page, Google displays a map of your location with WiFi spots highlighted with little red bubbles. Clicking on one of these bubbles will launch a pop-up box with the business name, address and an option to get directions to or from the business. Google's local search is handy, if you are looking for a WiFi spot at a restaurant or cafe, but the data it showed was far from complete.

WiFi Free Spot

My personal favorite, WiFi Free Spot is designed to help you find any and all hotspots near your location. They also catalog which airports, hotels, campgrounds and resorts offer free WiFi access. It was this site that told me that the outdoor mall just two miles from here offers free WiFi access in their common areas. That means that stroller and laptop in tow, I can head to the sailboat pond and spend an afternoon working while my daughter watches the boats in the pond. It's also got a great list of non-chain restaurants that offer free WiFi, which can have an impact on where I take my business when I'm meeting with a client. The site is mostly compiled by user submissions with readers being encouraged to drop an email if they know of a hotspot location not already listed in the database. The site isn't limited to the United States, it also features listings for Canada, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

HotSpot Haven

A free WiFi hot spot search engine, HotSpot Haven not only offers a searchable database of local hot spots, but also encourages users to return to the site and write reviews of the locations they've connected from. A handy feature that I haven't found at many other sites is the ability to download the latest version of the database. Obviously a WiFi search engine only does you good if you think to check it before you head out into the world and who know ahead of time where they'll be needing to connect. HotSpot Haven's "Spot Shadow" software stores the database on your hard drive so that you can look up locations as needed. The database is still a bit lacking, showing far less locations that I was able to find through Google or WiFi Free Spot, but it's certainly worth checking out.


Perhaps the most complex of the WiFi search sites, WiFinder allows you to enter not only your location, but whether you are looking for free or paid WiFi along with what protocol you require. While the results are not quite as complete as the databases offered by other sites, the information on sites that are listed is extensive. Users not only get the standard business name, address and phone number, but also what protocol is being used and, if commercial, what company the WiFi offering is through. As with WiFi Free Spot, site users are encouraged to add additional listings as they find them.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
April 4, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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