FON Wireless Router

nrkbeta/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This could be a lifesaver, especially if you’re overseas.

If you find yourself constantly on the prowl for Wi-Fi hotspots but feel like a network sniffing hobbit sword might severely cramp your style, WiFi Map might be the perfect app for you.

This free app functions similarly to George Costanza’s infamous iToilet public-restroom finder, but instead of toilets, it sniffs out Wi-Fi networks. It gives users access to a huge trove of hotspots worldwide, thanks to a cohort of 7 million users who have crowdsourced the app’s entire database of 2.1 million entries and counting.

WiFi Map

The app’s creators said their product was a necessity in an age when Internet access is increasingly seen as a must-have service like traditional utilities and cellular providers have raised prices and nixed their unlimited data plans.

“With recent internet usage increase in the past years, a lot of cellular phone data providers removed unlimited data plans,” said Den Ski, director of strategic partnerships and co-founder of WiFi Map. “So the idea was to create a crowd-sourced platform and give users an easy street to be able to identify free or accessible Wi-Fi hotspots near them.”

WiFi Map

What separates WiFi Map from the pack is that it allows users to share passwords for protected networks. In most cases, this is a harmless and somewhat helpful feature, since it simply gives you a password that a cafe is likely to give you anyway while eliminating the need to, you know, talk to anyone.

However, the ability to share Wi-Fi network passwords presents security issues that could affect both the network’s owner and hapless users. In response to this criticism, Ski noted that WiFi Map does not itself provide any network passwords; instead, the app lets users add the password to a network entry for their future convenience.

WiFi Map

“95% of all the hotspots are [public] venues rather than home hotspots,” Ski said. “Occasionally users will add their home hotspot to the database.”

In fact, he added, businesses are generally happy to publish the passwords to their own hotspots because of the increased visibility and exposure it provides.

Security concerns aside, this app could prove extremely useful for many people, especially those looking for Wi-Fi in remote areas, underserved  neighborhoods lacking a Starbucks on every block, and foreign countries where the lay of the land is unknown.

In addition to the free iOS and Android app, WiFi Map offers a $4.99 version that lets users to cache the locations of an unlimited number of hotspots for use offline. This feature is particularly useful for international travellers. With the pro version, a user can quickly store an entire city’s worth of hotspots before leaving home and access the map when they arrive, avoiding costly roaming charges and overpriced international data plans.

WiFi Map

While the $4.99 price tag might seem a bit high, it could end up saving a frequent traveler significant amounts of both time and money. For local use, however, the free version should work just fine.

Photo via nrkbeta/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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