Home & Office

How to fix coffee-shop Wi-Fi

It's always DNS. It's always DNS. It's always DNS. (Unless it's DHCP and you can't fix that.)
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor

When you're on the road, Starbuck's '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. 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 somewhere smaller the coffee is often far tastier, but the wireless can be hit and miss. Ducking into a little coffee place in Maple Leaf, Seattle to get out of the rain and catch up on some work over the weekend, my phone warned me that it could connect to the Wi-Fi but not to the internet.

I had the same problem when I connected my 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 properly 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.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

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 choose Properties. Click on Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and choose Properties again, then click to fill in your own 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.

Dialogs with the Wireless Adapter and IPv4 settings for a Wi-Fi connection

Setting DNS for a wi-fI connection can fix a broken wireless network.

M Branscombe

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. 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 get on with some work. 


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