In the spirit of celebrating our nation’s independence this weekend, let’s consider the possibility of breaking free from our ISP and smartphone plans.  Is it possible to get by on free WiFi alone these days?  With the plethora of restaurants, coffee shops, retail establishments, libraries and more offering free WiFi it’s definitely worth considering.

Free WiFi everywhere

While the final answer ultimately depends on your level of Internet usage, many casual users who rarely go beyond simple email and social network activity may be able to forego paying for Internet service at home or a smartphone’s usual data plan requirement.

Here is some analysis to see if free WiFi is the only Internet access you’ll ever need.

Public WiFi Security Risks

First off, forget about eCommerce and online banking with a free WiFi service.  If you enjoy online shopping and banking, you are probably aware it is never a good idea to engage in these activities on any public WiFi network. The risk for hacking and other nefarious activity is simply too great. The WiFi services typically offered in public areas tend to attract cyber criminals looking for an easy mark.

You should only access your private financial and health data using your own Internet service at home or from your wireless data account when on the go. This is arguably the main reason most Internet users would be unable to survive using only public free WiFi services.

Video and Music Streaming Using Publicly Available WiFi

If you only use the Internet for email and the occasional streaming of music or video, a public WiFi service can do the trick, provided there is enough bandwidth to handle your content without hiccups. Perform a quick speed test to see if the service provides the right amount of horsepower for your viewing needs. Around 5 Mbps is good for HD video, but you can get by with a slower service if you aren’t picky about your video quality.  Additionally, you won’t have to worry about exceeding the data allowance of your wireless carrier.

Arguably, however, music and video streaming is simply a better experience from the comfort of your home and a well-appointed stereo system. And visiting an establishment offering Internet access during inclement weather can be a hassle.  The choice on this matter comes down to a matter of preference and convenience.

Ultimately, only the most casual Internet users would be able to reasonably survive on free WiFi. Most of what makes the Internet great — eCommerce and streaming rich media being two items — either lack security or enough bandwidth to make it worth your while. If your Internet usage only consists of email and an occasional Facebook session, by all means, break free and celebrate your personal independence day!