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Tech Tips

(Finally) Free Wi-Fi at McDonald's

Screenshot of the new, free sign-in page. Button below McDonald's logo reads 'Free Connection.'
The New McDonald's Wi-Fi Welcome Page

Notice the new "Free Connection" button. It's your gateway to free Wi-Fi.

Screenshot of the new, 'accept our terms' page on McDonald's Wi-Fi.
Not So Fast! Agree to AT&T's Terms First.

Check the check box and click Continue. No codes from the receipt. No hassle.

Screenshot of the new, 'accept our terms' page on McDonald's Wi-Fi.
You are Free to Surf the Net

McDonald's Wi-Fi welcomes you to the Internet. In theory, you can stay on as long as you want.

For the last six years, McDonald's has been charging its customers to use the Wi-Fi. Starting today, January 15, 2010, the Wi-Fi is free at most US McDonald's.

With over 11,500 hotspots, McDonald's has the largest Wi-Fi network in the US, beating number two, Starbucks, by several thousand locations.

The balance of power between free and paid Wi-Fi has shifted dramatically in favor of free.

Learn how to connect to McDonald's Wi-Fi below.

This big development is forcing a massive makeover of this McDonald's Wi-Fi guide. A good chunk of it will be relegated to the history books. Until the makeover is complete, please excuse the mess.

Please share your McDonald's Wi-Fi experiences with us. Does your local McDonald's force you to pay? Did you have trouble getting on? Do you have technical questions? This page is all about McDonald's Wi-Fi and we'd love to hear from you.

Welcome to the free McDonald's Wi-Fi era.

 

 

Free Wi-Fi Update, January 14, 2010 (7PM Update)

Wi-Fi Goes Free Early at 4 Local McDonald's!

I have now visited four of my area McDonald's (across two franchise owners, no less) and are all serving up free Wi-Fi. Just look for the "Free Connection" button.

The Wi-Fi is truly free- just hop on. No purchase required.

Here are the steps to connect to McDonald's Wi-Fi. Follow along with the pictures.

  1. Connect to the "Wayport_Access" wireless network.
  2. Browse to any web page. This takes you to the new McDonald's welcome page.
  3. Click "Free Connection." Internet Explorer users, see note below.
  4. Accept the terms of service on the next page by checking the box and clicking the "Continue" button.
  5. Finally, McDonald's Wi-Fi greets you and welcomes you to the Internet on the next page.

 

The "Jumping Free Connection Button" Bug

If you surf the Internet with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, you may notice the following:

  1. You click the "Free Connection" button.
  2. It doesn't connect you to the Internet. Also, the Free Connection button is no longer under your mouse pointer. The button jumped down below it.
  3. Click the button again and it connects you to the Internet.

This happened to me at three McDonald's in a row where I used Internet Explorer 8. At the fourth, I connected with Firefox and the button to connect to the Internet didn't try to run away.

 

 

Free Wi-Fi Update, January 12, 2010

Three Days to Free Wi-Fi at McDonald's in the USA!

January 15th marks the beginning of free Wi-Fi. Apparently, AT&T Wi-Fi sent an e-mail last Friday announcing the date to its customers. Today, Reuters and the Boston Globe reported on the launch date citing unnamed spokeswomen.

More answers to previously unanswered questions also came forth.

Check in Friday for reports from filed from my various local McDonald's!

 

Here's the Latest:

  • Friday, January 15, 2010 is the big day: Assuming no schedule-slips or glitches, free Wi-Fi will flow at McDonald's this Friday.
  • How to log on becomes clearer: According to the Boston Globe, you still need to access the Welcome screen before surfing. It didn't talk about getting a code anything purchase related, which is consistent with reports before Christmas. The Welcome screen login means your Wi-Fi capable device must have a web browser to access the free Wi-Fi (though there are exceptions for a few devices).

 

 

Breaking News! December 16, 2009

McDonald's Wi-Fi Goes Free in January!

It's the news we've all been waiting for. Starting in "mid-January," McDonald's is going to stop charging for Wi-Fi access at their restaurants!

 

What We Know

  • Free Wi-Fi begins in "mid-January," 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal. McDonald's currently charges $2.95 for two hours at most locations.
  • No purchase required? The Dallas Morning News claims as much but I haven't seen an explicit quote from McDonald's confirming that.
  • No time limit: Stay online as long as you wish. "We don't mind at all if people step in take advantage of the Wi-Fi and linger a bit," Dave Grooms, chief information officer for McDonald's USA told the Associated Press.
  • Trying to compete with Starbucks: McDonald's recently jumped into the premium coffee biz with their "McCafe" coffee shop. Starbucks already offers free Wi-Fi with purchase, though you must jump through many hoops to get it. Grooms tells the WSJ that the new McDonald's Wi-Fi is meant to be "open and convenient…Free is free."
  • Most but not all locations: The offer applies to over 11,000 McDonald's restaurants powered by AT&T Wireless. Franchises that set up their own hotspots aren't included but are usually free anyway.
  • A shift in the overall free vs. pay Wi-Fi balance: McDonald's Wi-Fi network is the largest of any fast food chain in the US with over 11,000 locations. Starbucks 7,000+ Wi-Fi hotspots went free earlier in the year. How many Starbucks and McDonald's do you pass on the way to anywhere? If you compete against them, justifying a paywall in front of your Wi-Fi just got tough.
  • Much of this page to be irrelevant! Even the title of this page, "Free (And Not So Free) Wi-Fi at McDonald's" will have to change once it's always free. It looks like I've got some work to do!

 

 

Unanswered Questions (Updated with Answers!)

  • Question: When precisely is the McDonald's Wi-Fi going free?

    Answered: January, 15, 2010 officially. Hey, that's now!

  • Question: Is a purchase required for free Wi-Fi? If you have to buy something, it's really more of a bonus. But still quite nice.

    Somewhat Answered: Nothing is stopping you from getting free Wi-Fi. However, I'm still waiting for someone from the company to clarify this from a policy standpoint. We haven't heard a direct, "We will let you use our Wi-Fi without purchase." We have heard, "Free is free" from McDonald's CIO. That's pretty close.

  • Question: How do you log on to the new free McDonald's Wi-Fi? Is there a Welcome screen? Is there a code? If so, where does the code come from?

    Answered: Instructions and pictures are at the top of the article.

  • Question: Is this a gradual "roll-out" or do we all wake up one "mid-January" morning to glorious free Wi-Fi at McDonald's?

    Answered: The Wi-Fi offically went free everywhere on Friday the 15th of January, according to Dave Grooms, McDonald's CIO.

 

 

Media Coverage

 

Now back to our old programming. Some of it is still relevant...

 

Old Introduction...

Latest News
Qwest logo.
All Qwest DSL customers get McDonald's Wi-Fi for free. Learn the correct way to connect. Verizon DSL customers are not so lucky.
AT&T logo.
McDonald's will soon be part of the AT&T Wi-Fi network, joining Starbucks. It doesn't look like free Wi-Fi is coming to McDonald's any time soon.
Front view of the Apple iPhone.
iPhone, Blackberry Bold and some LaptopConnect customers now have 17,000 free Wi-Fi locations, including Starbucks and McDonald's.
A line-up of five Microsoft Zune MP3 players.
Jump on McDonald's Wi-Fi with your Zune MP3 player. Shop for and stream music from the Zune Marketplace.
Picture of an ordinary looking SD camera card, the Eye-Fi Explore. The card has built-in Wi-Fi.
Nifty camera card automatically uploads your digital camera pictures at McDonald's. First year free, $19/yr. after.
An illustration of a Nintendo DS Lite portable game console.
Nintendo DS owners had free Wi-Fi at McDonald's. That ended in November 2007. Learn about your alternatives.

The Wi-Fi isn't free at most US McDonald's. However, more than 10 percent of US households can log on without paying: AT&T and Qwest DSL customers all receive McDonald's Wi-Fi at no extra charge.

Some Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets also get a free ride on McDonald's wireless network, including the iPhone, Blackberry Bold, Microsoft Zune and the Eye-Fi Explore digital camera card.

For the rest of America, McDonald's wireless Internet is cheaper than most hotspot networks and is sometimes free. But finding the best deal can be tricky. Choices range from single sessions to various monthly subscriptions, free Wi-Fi coupons to franchises giving it away free. It helps to have a guide.

McDonald's began offering its customers Wi-Fi in 2003, making it a pioneer among its competitors. Five years later, nearly two-thirds of its locations feature it and McDonald's is still the only big fast food chain offering company-wide wireless Internet. But not for long.

Jack in the Box is rolling out free wireless at its stores. Carl's Jr. and Del Taco say they are considering free Wi-Fi too. Independent franchises have been setting up their own hotspots for years. McDonald's has Wi-Fi competition and most of it is free.

How do you log on free as an AT&T customer? How else can you connect? What kinds of problems might you encounter on McDonald's Wi-Fi network? What happened to free Wi-Fi for Nintendo DS users?

Let Knowzy guide you through the maze of Free (and Not So Free) Wi-Fi at McDonald's.

 

Contents

 

 

 

Highlights of McDonald's Wireless

Windows 'Wireless Network Connections' window showing the user connected to the 'Wayport_Access' network.
Connect to the "Wayport_Access" Network

McDonald's Wi-Fi network is called "Wayport_Access." Connecting to it is your first step to getting on the Internet.

Over two-thirds of US McDonald's locations are Wi-Fi-enabled. Unless you're out in the boonies, inside a Wal-Mart or visiting a hold-out franchise, you're likely to find wireless Internet at the next McDonald's you visit.

Here's an overview of the McDonald's Wi-Fi experience:

  • Pricing:
    • Free to many DSL customers and Wi-Fi gadgets
    • Ask cashier about free Wi-Fi coupons!
    • $2.95 for two hours
    • Subscriptions from $7.95 to $60 per month
    • Some franchises don't charge
    • Nintendo DS no longer free
  • Fast: High-speed broadband Internet connection.
  • Sign-In Options: An abundance of choices. A few are free.
  • Pervasive: Over 11,500 of 14,000 of US McDonald's offer Wi-Fi.
  • No Porn Filter: Parents beware. Teenagers be good.
  • Consistent: Wireless network name is always "Wayport_Access"
  • Pioneer: First fast food chain to roll out Wi-Fi.

 

 

Connecting to McDonald's Wi-Fi Network

Screenshot of the McDonald's Wi-Fi welcome page. The 'Connect' button is highlighted.
The McDonald's Wi-Fi Welcome Page

Browsing to any web page brings you here. You must pick a way to connect before you can surf where you please.

As you enter the McDonald's Wi-Fi zone, your laptop or other Wi-Fi-capable device will detect a wireless network. Follow the prompts to connect to the "Wayport_Access" network (see Windows screenshot).

Once connected, call up any web page. Instead of visiting that page, your web browser pulls up the McDonald's Wi-Fi welcome page.

From here, you need to decide how to you are going to get on the Internet. Select the "Connect" button just below the McDonald's logo for a complete menu of choices.

The next section takes you through these choices, including the possibility of free access to McDonald's Wi-Fi.

 

 

McDonald's Wi-Fi Sign-In Options

Screenshot of McDonald's Wi-Fi Connection Options page.
Your Menu of Wi-Fi Connection Choices

McDonald's offers six choices for getting on the Internet. Choose wisely and you may get on for free.

The number of ways to connect to the Internet at McDonald's is almost bewildering. Additionally, some franchises work differently and are more generous with their Wi-Fi than the corporate-owned stores.

This section helps you wade through your options: Free, single use and subscription.

With any luck, you won't need to whip out your credit card to get on McDonald's Internet.

 

    Free Wi-Fi Options

    There are a number of ways to get on McDonald's Wi-Fi for free. Some McDonald's locations don't even charge. Millions of AT&T subscribers don't have to pay for McDonald's Wi-Fi. Some devices have free McDonald's Wi-Fi built in.

    Your options boil down to these:

    If none of these work for you, the Wi-Fi is gonna cost you. But not very much.

    Nintendo DS was once free on McDonald's Wi-Fi. Today, DS users need to choose one of the connection options described in this section.

     

      AT&T Broadband Subscribers

      Screenshot of AT&T Wi-Fi sign in page at McDonald's. The 'Domain' dropdown list is highlighted, showing all AT&T e-mail domain names (such at att.net and sbcglobal.net).
      Log In Free with Your AT&T E-mail Address

      Whether you use it or not, AT&T DSL comes with at least one e-mail address. Don't know it? Call tech. support at 1 (877) 722-3755.

      AT&T DSL and U-verse subscribers enjoy free reign on McDonald's Wi-Fi. If you are an AT&T broadband subscriber, all you need is your AT&T e-mail address and password to log on.

      Free McDonald's Wi-Fi is part of the AT&T Wi-Fi Basic account, included with your broadband Internet service.

      Here's how to connect using your AT&T log in:

      1. In the bottom right corner of McDonald's Wi-Fi welcome page, click on the AT&T logo. This takes you to the login page.
      2. In the "Username" field, enter the part of your e-mail address before the "@" symbol. For example, if your e-mail address is john.doe@att.net, enter john.doe.
      3. Click the "AT&T Domain" field, and find the last part of your e-mail address, past the "@" symbol.
      4. Enter your password in the "Password" field.
      5. Check the "I Agree" button and click the "Log in" button. You are now on the Internet.

      Don't remember your e-mail address and/or password? Unsure if your account qualifies? Get in touch with AT&T. DSL and U-verse subscribers can call 1 (877) 722-3755 for help.

      In addition to McDonald's, your AT&T Wi-Fi account works at many other places, including Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. See the AT&T Wi-Fi Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to learn more about your account.

      Originally, AT&T only offered an AT&T Wi-Fi account to its highest speed DSL customers. In early 2008, they threw in the Wi-Fi account for medium speed customers. Finally, in September 2008, AT&T gave free Wi-Fi to all of its customers.

       

      Qwest DSL Customers

      Screenshot of McDonald's Wi-Fi 'Roaming Service Provider' page with Qwest selected.
      Pick Qwest from Roaming Partners Page

      Qwest offers free McDonald's Wi-Fi for all of its customers. Just don't rely on their instructions for connecting to it.

      In May 2009, Qwest gave its high-speed Internet customers free Wi-Fi at McDonald's and many other places through a partnership with AT&T Wi-Fi. All Qwest DSL customers qualify.

      You can find the nearest Qwest Wi-Fi location through their Wi-Fi locator.

      Qwest's instructions are extremely inaccurate in describing how to connect to McDonald's Wi-Fi. McDonald's is by far the biggest chain in Qwest's Wi-Fi network. You'd think one of the technical writers might have tried following their own instructions at their local Mickey D's. Their lack of due diligence is truly a disservice to their customers.

      Here are the correct instructions for connecting to McDonald's Wi-Fi using your Qwest account:

      1. Have your login information handy. Qwest gives you two ways to sign in. Be sure to take this information with you to McDonald's. Here are your login choices:
        • Your phone number using one of two numbers as your password:
          1. The last four digits of the social security number of the person named on the bill
          2. The three digit "customer code" on your bill
        • Your Qwest "My Account" user name and password
      2. Connect to the McDonald's Wi-Fi wireless network. Look for a wireless network called "Wayport_Access." Do not connect to the "attwifi" network, as the Qwest instructions suggest. It is not the McDonald's network. If you see an attwifi network, it is likely a weak signal coming from a nearby Starbucks, Barnes & Noble or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
      3. Browse to any web page. Once connected to McDonald's Wi-Fi network, try visiting your favorite web site. Instead of going there, McDonald's takes you to its Wi-Fi welcome page.
      4. Select "Connection Options." You'll find the link along the top of the McDonald's welcome page, second option from the left.
      5. Select "Connect with a Roaming Partner." It's the second option from the bottom on the Connection Options page.
      6. Select "Qwest" from the list. Find Qwest in the list under "Roaming Service Providers" and click the "Continue" button.
      7. Agree to the terms. You are now at the Qwest login page. Check the box next to "I agree."
      8. Enter your login information. There are two places to type in your information: One lets you enter your phone number, the other lets you log in with your Qwest My Account login. (Refer to step 1.)
      9. Click "Go" and you're surfing the 'net!

      If you get stuck anywhere along the way or if your login is rejected, call up Qwest's technical support line at 1-866-325-4228. They can help you troubleshoot the problem.

       

      Free Wi-Fi Coupons

      Screenshot of McDonald's Wi-Fi connect with a coupon page.
      Enter Coupon Code Here

      If you're lucky enough to get a coupon for free Wi-Fi at McDonald's, look for the "Use a Coupon" connection option.

      Occasionally McDonald's has a free Wi-Fi promotion. When it does, McDonald's distributes free Wi-Fi coupons good for a free Internet session to its restaurants. Often, these coupons sit behind the counter many months after the promotion.

      Through November 18, 2008, an instant win ticket in McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes gets you 1 hour of free McDonald's Wi-Fi. These tickets expire January 18, 2008. No word on which Monopoly piece wins you Wi-Fi.

      In addition, some restaurants reportedly keep a coupon supply on hand to compete with its free Wi-Fi neighbors. Recent photographic evidence shows this practice alive and well.

      Staci D. Kramer at paidContent.org, in reviewing the Zune/McDonald's Wi-Fi experience, posted photos of a St. Louis area McDonald's with "Free Wi-Fi" prominently displayed on its windows. She reports they offer one free hour.

      Freelance writer Susan Breidenbach interviewed a McDonald's franchise owner in the Austin, Texas area who instructs his employees to hand out free Wi-Fi coupons to laptop-toting customers.

      It's worth asking your cashier if he or she has free Wi-Fi coupons behind the counter. You may get lucky!

       

      Free Wi-Fi Stores

      McDonald's franchisees aren't required to install the type of Wi-Fi described here. Among the roughly 12,000 US McDonald's franchises, you'll find a mixed-bag of no Wi-Fi, free Wi-Fi and paid Wi-Fi.

      Some McDonald's restaurants set up their own wireless router but these are becoming rare. Internet provider AT&T (formerly Wayport) runs over 10,000 US McDonald's restaurants, up from 9,300 in May 2008.

      Not that Wayport-based hotspots preclude a store from offering free Wi-Fi: Some give out coupons for free access.

      The moral: It pays to ask. With persistence and a little luck, you may find an always-free Wi-Fi at a McDonald's near you (and we love hearing about such locations).

       

      Apple iPhone from AT&T Wireless

      The Apple iPhone from AT&T Wireless.
      Got an iPhone? Hop on McDonald's Wi-Fi Free.

      For an Internet speed-boost, visit a McDonald's, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble or other AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot.

      After a year of off-again, on-again free Wi-Fi for iPhone users, free Wi-Fi at McDonald's is here to stay.

      In fact, the iPhone is free at 17,000 AT&T Wi-Fi locations. 9,800 of them are McDonald's. Starbucks locations make up several thousand more free iPhone hotspots.

      Blackberry Bold owners also get free Wi-Fi but only with an unlimited data plan at $30 per month, according to the Tech Chronicles blog at the San Francisco Chronicle. Since iPhone owners are required to subscribe to a similar $30 plan, they all get the free Wi-Fi benefit.

      AT&T Wireless promises Wi-Fi access next year to the rest of its customers with Wi-Fi capable phones. Presumably, the unlimited data plan will be required for free Wi-Fi.

      Logging on to McDonald's Wi-Fi is a tricky process. If you are in a 3G area with a 3G iPhone, you must be determined to get the moderate bump up in speed to make connecting at McDonald's worthwhile.

      AT&T Wireless likely made the connection process so convoluted because a simpler log in process was easily hacked by laptops and other Wi-Fi capable devices.

      AT&T provides instructions for logging on to an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot with your iPhone. However, these instructions are slightly incorrect for McDonald's Wi-Fi.

      Here's the correct way to log on at McDonald's:

      1. Make sure Wi-Fi is enabled on your iPhone (it is often turned off to save battery power).
      2. Connect to the "Wayport_Access" network (AT&T's instructions have you connecting to the "attwifi" network, which you are unlikely to find at McDonald's).
      3. At the Welcome screen, enter your 10-digit mobile phone number and check "I agree."
      4. Shortly after, you'll receive a text message (don't worry, it's free). Open the text message and click link within.

      You're now authorized to use the Internet for the next 24 hours at this McDonald's location. You must go through this process again if you visit a different McDonald's location or the same one more than a day later.

      With the introduction of the 3G iPhone, many wonder why anyone would bother using Wi-Fi at public hotspots. Here are several reasons:

      • High-speed, 3G Internet isn't available in all areas of the US. EDGE, the fallback Internet data protocol, isn't much faster than a dial-up connection.
      • Wi-Fi is faster than 3G. It could make a big difference if you want to watch a video.
      • The older iPhone doesn't have 3G at all.
      • Save your battery. The 3G radio puts out a signal roughly 10 times more powerful than the Wi-Fi radio. If you're planning a long Internet session, your battery may not last if you surf over 3G.

      iPod Touch owners, this Wi-Fi is not for you. It is only for the iPhone and requires an active AT&T Wireless subscription. The iPod Touch can log on to McDonald's Wi-Fi using one of the sign-on options.

       

      Microsoft Zune Media Player

      Line-up of Microsoft Zune media players.
      Free McDonald's Wi-Fi for Zune Owners

      Stream music or purchase content from the Zune Marketplace on McDonald's Wi-Fi. Even older Zunes qualify.

      Microsoft recently announced one more reason to choose a Zune over an iPod: Free McDonald's Wi-Fi.

      The Zune can only visit the Zune Marketplace (Microsoft's version of the Apple iTunes Store) over McDonald's Wi-Fi. Surfing the web isn't an option since the Zune doesn't have a web browser.

      Here's what your Zune can do at McDonald's:

      • Buy MP3 songs, videos and games from the Zune Marketplace
      • Listen to streaming music (Zune Pass subscribers only, $14.99 per month)
      • Buy songs you hear on Zune's FM radio. Just mark the songs you like as listen to your favorite radio station, then head to McDonald's (or home) to download the songs wirelessly.

      The free Wi-Fi offer coincides with Zune's "3.0" software upgrade touting many new features, including a clock! It is available to all Zune owners free of charge. If you already own a Zune, you'll need this update to take advantage of the free McDonald's Wi-Fi.

      As we learned with the Nintendo DS, these partnerships don't last forever. This one lasts until September of 2011, according to Glen Fleishman's Wi-Fi Networking News. Microsoft can call an extension after the three years are up.

      Wired's Gaget Lab notes this deal is similar to one Apple made with Starbucks. iPod Touch owners have free access to the iTunes Store at any of the coffee giant's US locations. Like the Zune arrangement, surfing the web as a whole isn't covered.

      If you own a Zune MP3 player, you're now free to shop and listen to tunes on McDonald's Wi-Fi.

       

      AT&T Wireless LaptopConnect

      Three AT&T PC cards for the AT&T Wireless LaptopConnect service.
      Have One of These? You Have Free Wi-Fi (Maybe).

      AT&T's LaptopConnect subscribers who pay top dollar ($60/mo.) have free Wi-Fi at McDonald's.

      If you're an AT&T Wireless LaptopConnect customer and subscribe to the top-tier DataConnect plan at $60 per month, you recently got free Wi-Fi at McDonald's and many more places. Like AT&T DSL subscribers, "Basic" AT&T Wi-Fi is included with your service.

      Only a small percentage of AT&T Wireless customers qualify for free McDonald's Wi-Fi. Perhaps this explains why AT&T isn't making a big publicity splash.

      McDonald's Wi-Fi is free to LaptopConnect customers who meet these requirements:

      • Must have a laptop card or USB device. You must have a device similar to those shown in the photo. This is not a service for SmartPhones. At least not yet.
      • Must subscribe to unlimited DataConnect plan. LaptopConnect customers have nine DataConnect choices at different monthly rates. Only the $60 per month, unlimited DataConnect plan includes free AT&T Wi-Fi.
      • Windows only. The only way to login for free with your LaptopConnect service is through AT&T's Communication Manager software. It is Windows-only (Windows 2000, XP and Vista, specifically). While Mac users can get LaptopConnect, the Mac software doesn't support the free Wi-Fi login. Linux users, forget about it!
      • Wi-Fi capable laptop. Your computer must be Wi-Fi capable. The cards provided by AT&T only pick up cellular phone signals. Most laptops built in the last five years have a Wi-Fi device built-in. If your laptop doesn't have Wi-Fi, it can be added for about $20.

      AT&T Wireless plans to offer AT&T Wi-Fi to its SmartPhone customers later this year, according to a leaked internal memo. It's not clear if AT&T SmartPhone customers will need the same $60 plan as LaptopConnect customers. It's also not clear if the iPhone will be eligible.

      Logging on at McDonald's is fairly automatic:

      1. Make sure your DataConnect card plugged in to your computer.
      2. Run AT&T's Communication Manager program. It should discover the McDonald's Wi-Fi network (called "Wayport_Access").
      3. When prompted, click "Connect." After a short delay, you are welcomed to the Internet.

      AT&T's isn't the only company offering a cellular/Wi-Fi Internet plan that includes McDonald's Wi-Fi. iRoam offers a similarly priced plan with more Wi-Fi hotspots and different terms.

       

      No Free Wi-Fi for Verizon Customers

      Verizon Logo.
      Verizon Wi-Fi Doesn't Include McDonald's Wi-Fi

      Verizon is offering its customers free Wi-Fi at 14,000 locations. None are McDonald's. 7,500 are free anyway.

      Early in 2009, a deal was rumored to be in the works between Verizon and Boingo to provide free Wi-Fi to its DSL and FiOS customers. Since Boingo's network includes McDonald's Wi-Fi, many observers, including Knowzy, assumed the deal would include McDonald's restaurants. Not so.

      In July 2009, the deal came to fruition. Notably missing was McDonald's locations.

      Qualifying Verizon DSL customers now have free Wi-Fi at over 14,000 locations. However, at least 7,500 (Starbucks and Barnes & Noble) already offer free Wi-Fi to everyone.

      Prolific Wi-Fi reporter Glenn Fleishman speculates Verizon might not be offering McDonald's Wi-Fi because it costs more. Boingo must pay McDonald's for each subscriber that has access to its Wi-Fi. With Verizon dependent on Boingo, they must be willing to buy McDonald's Wi-Fi for all of its subscribers, whether they use it or not.

      Perhaps Verizon will someday lift the ban on McDonald's Wi-Fi for its broadband subscribers. For now, Verizon customers are left in the dark.

       

     

    Single Connection

    Screenshot of McDonald's Wi-Fi 'Buy a connection with Credit Card' page.
    2 Hours of Internet for $2.95

    Just enter your credit card number (it's secure) and you're on the 'net.

    Buying a single connection makes financial sense if:

    If you find yourself frequently paying for Wi-Fi hotspots or hotel Internet connections, a subscription may work out better for you. But if you just want to hop on McDonald's Wi-Fi every now and then, a single connection is probably the best deal for you.

    The only way to purchase a single Internet session at McDonald's is through AT&T (formerly Wayport) using your credit card.

    At $2.95, AT&T's single connection is a good deal among paid Internet hotspots. For example, T-Mobile HotSpot connections (available at Starbucks, Borders and many hotels and airports) are $6 for the first hour and 10 cents a minute thereafter. AT&T connections at Starbucks are $3.99 for two hours.

    However, fast food restaurants seem to be trending toward free Wi-Fi, which may someday make McDonald's paid Wi-Fi less attractive.

    AT&T accepts these credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diner's Club. Sorry Discover Card and PayPal users!

    Here's how to purchase a single Internet connection through AT&T:

    1. On the McDonald's Wi-Fi welcome page, click the "Connect" button below the McDonald's logo. This takes you to the "Connection Options" page.
    2. Select "Buy a connection with a credit card."
    3. Enter your name and credit card information (don't worry, it's securely encrypted).
    4. Click the "Continue" button. After several seconds, AT&T welcomes you to the Internet.

     

    Subscription Options

    Do you need constant Internet access where ever you go? Several providers offer unlimited Internet access at hotels, airports, coffee shops and restaurants (including, of course, McDonald's). Each plan has its advantages and disadvantages. Prices start at as low as $7.95 per month and go as high as $60 per month.

    Skip ahead for an in-depth comparison of each company's offerings.

 

Downsides to McDonald's Wi-Fi

There's not much dirt on McDonald's Wi-Fi. After five years of offering its customers wireless Internet powered by hotspot heavyweight Wayport, McDonald's has a mature and smooth-running Wi-Fi network.

Then again, nobody's perfect. Here are the shortcomings Knowzy found. Please write in if you have others to report.

  • It's not free (usually)

    McDonald's started offering Wi-Fi in an era when wireless hotspots were less common and free Wi-Fi was even more rare. Today, free Wi-Fi isn't difficult to find. Jack in the Box is rushing free Internet to its restaurants. Even McDonald's Wi-Fi in the UK recently became free. While there are opportunities for free Wi-Fi at McDonald's, in general, you need to pay for it.

  • Many sign on choices make picking the best one difficult

    The main "Connection Options" page has six choices. The roaming partner choice leads to four more choices. Which ones will save you money? Are any of them free to you? Your food is getting cold while you try to decide. Luckily you found this guide!

  • Must have a web browser

    Your laptop, iPhone, PSP or PDA should work fine. Your Nintendo DS works too with some extra hardware (though not for free anymore). However, some Wi-Fi enabled devices like VoIP phones and digital cameras will not work. These devices do not have a web browser to sign on to McDonald's Wi-Fi.

 

 

Subscription Plan Comparison

Three companies can get you unlimited Internet access at McDonald's (and many other places) for a fee. Plans vary widely in price and locations and services offered. From a mobile phone only plan for $7.95 per month to a $60 per month plan that includes global Wi-Fi, dial up and US 3G Internet access.

These plans are suited for people who find themselves paying for Internet access at least a couple times every month. Whether it's coffee shops, hotels, airports or McDonald's, the right plan offers savings for frequent away-from-home Internet users.

Like in real estate, location is very important in picking a plan. The number of locations isn't as important as picking a plan with the right locations. Do you visit Barnes & Nobles or Borders? Do you go to Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf? Different plans cover different stores.

The iRoam 3G plan is noteworthy. For $60 per month, they set you up with a laptop card capable of receiving Internet access anywhere you have a cell phone signal. This is in addition to worldwide Wi-Fi access (including McDonald's) and worldwide dial-up.

Keep your on-the-road Internet access charges manageable with a subscription and pop in to McDonald's anytime for a Wi-Fi fix.

 

Wi-Fi Subscription Plans with McDonald's Access
PlanN. Amer. Loc. Intl. Loc. 2 Hr.MonthYear
AT&T Wi-Fi Basic117,0000  Varies 
AT&T Wi-Fi Premier 17,000+71,000 $2.95$19.99 
Boingo Unlimited 24,1800 $9.95 
Boingo Global 24,180112,517 $39.95 
Boingo Mobile 24,000285,0002 $7.95 
iRoam USA 3G ?108,000+ $603 
Eye-Fi Explore412,0000   $19.005
Notes
1 This plan is only available to AT&T broadband and select AT&T Wireless customers. It is included free AT&T DSL and U-verse plans.
2 Mobile access works at "just about" all Wi-Fi hotspots accroding to Boingo Mobile support. Boingo Mobile not avaiable at wired (as opposed to wireless) hotspots.
3 Includes cellular wireless Internet through a laptop card. Get Internet access anywhere you have a cell phone signal. Also includes worldwide dial-up access.
4 Access to all US Wayport hotspots. Membership is limited to Eye-Fi Explore, a digital camera memory card that automatically uploads photos to flickr and other sites.
5 Wi-Fi hotspot access is free for the first year. $19 per year thereafter.

 

    AT&T Wi-Fi

    Honored at
    • McDonald's
    • Starbucks (can get Wi-Fi free)
    • Barnes & Noble
    • Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
    • Raley's and Nob Hill
    • IHOP (Applebee's soon?)
    • Hertz Rental Cars
    • Hospitals
    • Many Hotels
    • Washington State Ferries
    • Many Airports
    • Many State Parks

    AT&T is the McDonald's Wi-Fi provider. It manages and maintains the network. Other companies that offer McDonald's Wi-Fi (such as Boingo and iRoam) must go through AT&T.

    AT&T Wi-Fi offers two subscription plans: Basic and Premier. You can't buy Basic separately- AT&T bundles it with other services. Premier is $19.99 per month.

    You get a Basic AT&T Wi-Fi account with the following services:

    • AT&T DSL
    • AT&T U-Verse Fiber Optic Internet
    • AT&T Wireless DataConnect Plan at $60/month
    • iPhone and BlacckBerry Bold (with active AT&T Wireless subscription)
    • Qwest DSL

    The differences between the Basic and Premier AT&T Wi-Fi plans are:

    • Basic is not sold separately. You must get it through another service, such as DSL.
    • Premier offers access to Wi-Fi hotspots across the globe. Basic is North America only.
    • Premier offers more US hotspots through its roaming partner locations.

    AT&T Wi-Fi Premier requires a one-year contract. If you cancel the subscription before the year is up, AT&T charges a $20 early termination fee (ETF).

    Wayport used to run McDonald's Wi-Fi until AT&T bought them in November 2008. The McDonald's Wi-Fi experience hasn't changed much since then. In fact, you still see Wayport's name all over the place as you navigate the McDonald's Wi-Fi portal.

    AT&T Wi-Fi published a FAQ on what the acquisition means to former Wayport customers. A noteworthy point is that Wayport subscribers do not have access to all AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots, despite paying at least $10 more per month.

    AT&T Wi-Fi was formerly known as SBC FreedomLink. Their name changed after AT&T gobbled up SBC and other "Baby Bells."

     

    Boingo

    Honored at
    • McDonald's
    • IHOP
    • Barnes & Noble
    • Starbucks
    • Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
    • Avis Rent-a-Car
    • Washington State Ferries
    • Hertz Rental Car
    • Raley's and Nob Hill
    • Hospitals
    • Many Hotels
    • Many Airports
    • Many State Parks

    In May 2009, Boingo reduced their monthly, unlimited access rate from $21.95 per month to $9.95 per month. They are now, by far, the cheapest way to regular McDonald's Wi-Fi access (assuming a free option isn't available to you). Boingo also has the most hotspots to choose from- 24,000 in the North America and 140,000 globally (Boingo Global is $59 per month).

    Here's what Boingo has to offer McDonald's Wi-Fi users:

    • Lowest cost monthly subscription
    • Most hotspots
    • Mobile-only Wi-Fi plan
    • Software for finding and connecting to nearest hotspots

    Boingo offers a unique low-cost mobile phone Wi-Fi plan at $7.95 per month. If it's right for you, Boingo Mobile can save money on your cell phone bill. It saves money on data charges and can save minutes using Voice over IP (VoIP) software such as Skype. You must have a supported phone and most but not all Boingo locations support mobile users.

    Using Boingo's Wi-Fi software (Windows, Mac and mobile compatible), it's easy to find the nearest hotspot no matter where you are in the world. Once you arrive at the hotspot, this same software makes connecting and logging in simple.

     

    iRoam

    Honored at
    • McDonald's
    • Starbucks (can get Wi-Fi free)
    • Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
    • FedEx Kinkos
    • Borders
    • Barnes & Noble
    • IHOP
    • Hertz Rental Cars
    • Raley's and Nob Hill
    • Hospitals
    • Many Hotels
    • Many Airports
    • Many State Parks
    • Post Offices and Government Centers

    iRoam offers more ways to connect to the Internet than simply Wi-Fi. However, unless you choose their $60 per month plan "3G" plan, iRoam charges you for Wi-Fi by the minute, making it more expensive at McDonald's than paying for individual $2.95 sessions.

    Connection options include:

    • Wi-Fi: At more than 20,000 hotspots in North America, including McDonald's and Starbucks.
    • Ethernet (Network Cable): You may have been to a hotel with a cable showcased on the desk promising Internet access. This is an Ethernet (or "RJ-45") cable and your laptop likely accepts it. AT&T and Boingo also feature Ethernet connections.
    • 3G Mobile Broadband: On the $60/month plan, you get cellular Internet access through a USB "stick." This is far more flexible and convenient than searching for the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot. Anywhere you have a cell phone signal, you have Internet. iRoam relies on a CDMA network (possibly Sprint's). While the network is available in most cities, rural coverage is spotty. Also note that the mobile Internet comes in two speeds, depending on the area you're in: 1xRTT (roughly twice the speed of dial up) and EVDO (broadband speed).
    • Dial Up: When all else fails, iRoam has phone numbers all over the world where you can use your modem and a phone line for dial up Internet access. Unlimited, global dial-up is included with the "3G" plan. It's not fast, but it's better than no Internet access at all in a pinch.

    Their basic plan is $7.25 per month. However, extra charges apply anytime you use it. On this plan, McDonald's Wi-Fi is $0.12 per minute. You can buy 2 hours of McDonald's Wi-Fi from AT&T anytime for $2.95. That same two-hour session with an iRoam basic subscription will cost you $14.40! Clearly, there's little benefit to the plan for McDonald's Wi-Fi access.

    iRoam might make sense if you are considering a cellular data plan for your laptop, particularly if you appreciate the convenience of dial-up access where Wi-Fi cannot reach. AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon offer cellular 3G plans for $60 per month. AT&T even includes free McDonald's Wi-Fi. However, only iRoam includes worldwide dial-up access.

    Another advantage iRoam's 3G plan has over its competitors- no capped data limit. With the other carriers, if you exceed 5GB in usage per month, they charge you $0.20 or more per megabyte. iRoam doesn't have this cap.

     

    Eye-Fi Explore

    Eye-Fi wireless SD card.
    Upload to 23 Photo Sites on McDonald's Wi-Fi

    Your camera automatically uploads your photos to the web when you're in range of a McDonald's.

    It looks like a ordinary digital camera memory card. However, this SD card has a very unique feature: It has built-in Wi-Fi. And you can use it free on McDonald's Wi-Fi for the first year and $19 per year after that.

    With an Eye-Fi Explore card simply turn on your camera at a compatible hotspot and your photos begin automatically uploading to flickr, Facebook or one of the other 21 supported sites.

    Eye-Fi Explore is compatible with most digital cameras that use a SD memory card (see photo). The Wi-Fi subscription is honored at all US Wayport Wi-Fi hotspots. The card works on home wireless networks and many free hotspots as well.

    The company makes three different Wi-Fi camera cards. Only the top-of-the-line "Explore" card, which retails for $129, has the McDonald's compatible Wi-Fi subscription. Eye-Fi Explore is due to hit stores "in limited numbers" starting the week of June 9th.

    The card has no built-in indication of the upload progress. Eye-Fi compensates for this in two ways. First, it can be configured to send a cell phone text message (SMS) or e-mail when the upload starts and completes. Second, if the upload is interrupted, it will continue where it left off the next time it connects to a wireless network.

    The Wayport subscription included with Eye-Fi is good only for the card. You cannot share the subscription with your laptop or cell phone.

    If you need to get your digital camera photos online quickly and effortlessly, this innovative card fits the bill! And McDonald's Wi-Fi is free for the first year and, at $19 per year, is very reasonable afterward.

     

 

Nintendo DS Wi-Fi No Longer Free at McDonald's

Nintendo DS console with a red circle-slash through it.
Free Ride Over for Nintendo DS Users

Nintendo DS owners need to find a new way onto McD's Wi-Fi. And it may cost them.

To much fanfare, Nintendo began offering Nintendo DS owners free McDonald's Wi-Fi access on November 14, 2005. When that offer ended two years later, there was dead silence.

Nintendo made no announcement. The press didn't cover it. DS users simply lost the ability to connect and McDonald's and didn't know why.

To clear up this confusion, Knowzy caught up with Dan Lowden, VP of Business Development & Marketing at Wayport, McDonald's Wi-Fi provider. He called the partnership "very successful" while confirming the two-year agreement with Nintendo ended in November 2007. The Orange County Register's Nancy Luna got a similar confirmation from McDonald's.

Other ways of connecting to McDonald's Wi-Fi require a web browser, which the DS does not have. This makes connecting difficult but not impossible.

If you own a Nintendo DS, you can still log on to McDonald's Wi-Fi, perhaps even for free. However, your DS no longer "just connects" on McDonald's Wi-Fi. Logging on takes more work and requires extra hardware.

 

    Connecting at McDonald's in the Post-Free Wi-Fi Era

    Today, you need one of two hardware add-ons from Nintendo to connect to McDonald's Wi-Fi (and most other public hotspots). Ironically, Nintendo discontinued both of these add-ons about the same time free McDonald's Wi-Fi ended. Fortunately, this hardware is still plentiful thanks to sites like eBay and Amazon.

    Here are your hardware choices:

      Scan of Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector retail box

      Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector. This device shares your laptop's Internet connection with your Nintendo DS. In this scenario, the laptop first connects to McDonald's Wi-Fi. Then the DS connects to the laptop.

      Pluses: You can play Wi-Fi-capable video games on your DS at McDonald's.

      Minuses: Must lug your laptop along with your Nintendo DS, making it much less portable!

       

      Scan of Nintendo DS Browser retail box

      Nintendo DS Opera web browser. This Option Pack gives the DS web surfing capabilities. Once installed, the DS can connect to the McDonald's Wi-Fi welcome page and log on through one of the available connection options.

      Pluses: Surf the web on your DS. Connect to McDonald's Wi-Fi directly from your DS. Fits in your pocket.

      Minuses: Can't play video games; web surfing only. The Opera browser is occupying your game slot.

 

    Other Free Hotspots for Nintendo DS Owners?

    Nintendo's Wi-Fi Hotspot Finder can help you find other free Wi-Fi locations. However, most require you to agree to terms of service through a sign-in page.

    The sign-in requirement puts you in the same boat as McDonald's Wi-Fi: Clicking that "I Agree" button requires a web browser, which the Nintendo DS does not have.

    Your best bet is to find a business where the owners installed a simple, home wireless router. Unfortunately, Nintendo's hotspot locator doesn't distinguish between locations that require a web browser and locations where you can simply connect.

    The free ride is over for Canadian DS users as well. Nintendo made an agreement with Fatport to provide free Wi-Fi at several thousand locations in Canada (none of them McDonald's locations). This deal appears to have ended when the free McDonald's Wi-Fi deal ended.

 

 

Talk About It

Still have questions about McDonald's Wi-Fi? Have a tip on a McDonald's serving up free Wi-Fi? How about a clever way to connect your Nintendo DS at McDonald's?

Talk about McDonald's Wi-Fi on our Feedback page.

And, for your own good, keep that Super Size Coke at least a foot away from your laptop at all times! Tip: Iced Tea isn't sticky when it dries (unless you drink it Southern style).

 

Originally Published:  Sunday, April 27, 2008, 5:00 PM PT

Last Updated:  Monday, June 20, 2011, 8:58 PM PT

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