How to Fix Coffee-Shop Wi-Fi

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Step by step for Windows and Macs.

By Rick Richardson

When you’re on the road, Starbucks’ "third space" idea can become compelling. You might want to get out of your hotel room for a change of atmosphere, or you might need a better cup of coffee.

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And you probably still need to get online with something other than your phone, and coffee shops mean Wi-Fi as much as caffeine.

If you pick the big chains, the Wi-Fi is pretty reliable. If you choose a smaller shop, the coffee is often far tastier, but the wireless can be hit and miss. A journalist writing about this problem went into a little coffee place in Seattle to get out of the rain and catch up on some work over a weekend. His phone warned him that it could connect to the Wi-Fi but not to the internet.

He had the same problem when he connected his laptop to the coffee shop Wi-Fi. It’s not always possible to diagnose what’s wrong with a Wi-Fi connection; often the bandwidth is overloaded by the number of people connected to free Wi-Fi, or the router isn’t correctly configured to hand out IP addresses to devices. That means waiting for a few people to leave or asking the staff to restart the router.

But frequently, the problem with networks is DNS; the Wi-Fi router is probably using the DNS server of the ISP to which it’s connected. Switch to a public DNS service like Cloudflare’s, and you should get connected – and probably find websites a bit more responsive, too.

In Windows 10, click the network indicator in the taskbar to open the network menu and choose Change adapter options to open the Network Connections control panel with the list of network hardware you can use. Right-click on the Wi-Fi connection and select Properties. Click on Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and choose Properties again, then click to fill in your DNS details. Fill in to use the Cloudflare service; you can use for the alternative DNS server if you want Cloudflare as the fallback, or to use Google’s DNS service.

You can do the same thing on a Mac. Choose System Preferences / Network and select your Wi-Fi connection, then click Advanced and choose the DNS tab. Again, fill in to use the Cloudflare service; you can use for the alternative DNS server if you want Cloudflare as the fallback, or to use Google’s DNS service.

On an iPad, look under Settings / Wi-Fi and tap next to the Wi-Fi network name. Scroll down and select the Configure DNS option, then tap Manual and fill in the addresses. Then you can get back to your coffee and on with some work.

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