OFF TO THE WI-FI RACES
If youre pouring coffee, serving food, or running a store in today's world, you can't be a Wi-Fi dead zone. For stores and restaurants in the U.S. and around the world, offering free Wi-Fi is just good business — but not all Wi-Fi is created equal. PCMag recently conducted a studythat reveals which places offer the best, fastest, and most reliable free Wi-Fi across the country. The tests were conducted by real-life customers in the field. "We took a look at thousands of tests connected by our partners at Speedtest.net, run by ordinary shoppers all around the country through the Speedtest app on their phones," says Sascha Segan, PCMag's lead mobile analyst. Keep in mind that free Wi-Fi lets customers stay connected to the store’s apps and coupons — and lets the store snoop on customers’ browsing and shopping habits. It's up to you to take precautions as you nibble on that scone you just posted to Instagram. Use a VPN service to keep data private.
DUNKIN’ DONUTS | BEST COFFEE SHOP FOR UPLOADING LARGE FILES
Average download speed: 25.4 Mbps
Average upload speed: 16.6 Mbps
Dunkin' Donuts blew away all other coffee shops in terms of upload speeds, but barely edged out Peet's and Starbucks when it comes to the much more important metric of download speeds. The coffee giant might just have an advantage thanks to its takeout-oriented business model — far more people are likely sitting and using Wi-Fi at Starbucks at any given moment. Choose "Dunkin' Donuts Guest," not "Dunkin Guest" to ride in the fast lane.
PEET’S COFFEE | BEST COFFEE SHOP FOR WI-FI AND DARK ROASTS
Average download speed: 25.2 Mbps
Average upload speed: 6.4 Mbps
Although upload speeds weren't even close, Peet's earns a virtual tie with Dunkin' Donuts when it comes to fast download speeds to pair with their signature dark roasts. The truth, however, is that it's an apples-to-oranges comparison. Peet's has just 200 locations, mostly in California with others scattered across the country, compared to more than 9,000 and nearly 14,000 U.S. stores for Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, respectively.
STARBUCKS | BEST COFFEE & WI-FI ACTUALLY NEAR YOU
Average download speed: 23.3 Mbps
Average upload speed: 6.3 Mbps
Starbucks is nearly as fast as its main coffee-shop competitor, Dunkin' Donuts, but only for customers in the Wi-Fi know. Make sure to log onto "Google Starbucks," not the older, slower "Starbucks WiFi" to get the best speeds.
TIM HORTONS | GREAT COFFEE, DECENT WI-FI
Average download speed: 6.9 Mbps
Average upload speed: 1.9 Mbps
There are about 850 Tim Hortons locations in the U.S., and if you drop by one, you can expect good coffee — and Wi-Fi that's just OK. Download speeds are less than one-third as fast as what you'll find at Starbucks. Upload speeds are also decaf.
MCDONALDS | BEST FAST FOOD CHAIN WITH WI-FI
Average download speed: 24.2 Mbps
Average upload speed: 6.1 Mbps
McDonald's was nearly able to compete with the very best coffee shops in terms of average download speeds. The study's authors pointed out, however, that the brass at very busy and crowded Mickey-Ds may be less hospitable to extended laptop sessions than your local Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts is likely to be.
PANERA | BEST FAST CASUAL CHAIN FOR WI-FI AND SALAD
Average download speed: 23.2 Mbps
Average upload speed: 7.4 Mbps
Although it might not meet everyone's definition of fast food, Panera is great place for fast wi-fi. While not as quick as some restaurants like Hooters, TGI Friday's and Rainforest Cafe, those all offer sit-down service and fail to provide a good atmosphere for uninterrupted online work, so they weren't included. The nearest fast-food runners up — like Arby's, Wendy's, Chick-fil-A and Burger King — landed far back in the rearview mirrors of Panera and McDonald's.
ARBY’S | BEST FAST FOOD CHAIN FOR THE MEATS AND MEGABYTES
Average download speed: 13.4 Mbps
Average upload speed: 4.3 Mbps
Arby's has the meats, but it doesn't have the Wi-Fi speeds to keep with the likes of McDonald's. To be fair, Arby's download speeds are in the double digits, but if you're looking to crush a mountain of roast beef topped with liquid cheese while you're doing some light work like sending emails, you should be just fine — and full.
QDOBA | HARD TO PRONOUNCE, EASY TO LOG ON
Average download speed: 12.5 Mbps
Average upload speed: 3.9 Mbps
The only other fast-food joint to offer double-digit download speeds was Qdoba. There are720 locations, virtually all of which are in the U.S. With speeds on both sides of the Mbps ladder that are comparable to those found at Arby's, you can eat decent Mexican food while enjoying decent Wi-Fi speeds.
MICROSOFT STORE | FASTEST RETAIL STORE BY A MILE
Average download speed: 55.7 Mbps
Average upload speed: 64.0 Mbps
Usually larger and more cavernous than coffee shops and fast-food joints, retailers face bigger challenges in delivering reliable Wi-Fi — but you’re only likely to be checking your phone and not camped out with your laptop. Still, the Microsoft Store met those challenges and then some with impressive speeds both up and down.
APPLE STORE | FAST WI-FI FOR PEOPLE HAVING TROUBLE WITH THEIR EXPENSIVE LAPTOP
Average download speed: 41.8 Mbps
Average upload speed: 59.4 Mbps
Apple Store locations offer average upload speeds that are actually faster than their average download speeds. Both the average upload and download speeds are blazing fast. The problem, of course, is finding a spot to set up with a laptop or focus on your phone, as most Apple Stores are jam-packed throughout the day.
REI | BEST STORE WITH BLAZING FAST WIFI — IF YOU ALSO NEED CAMPING GEAR
Average download speed: 36.2 Mbps
Average upload speed: 15.7 Mbps
The only other retail chain that's worth a mention isn't in the electronics/computer/connectivity business like Apple and Microsoft — it's outdoor superstore REI. After that, there was a huge drop-off, with stores like Ikea, Lowe's, Hollister and Co., and L.L. Bean putting in pitiful showings.
MICRO CENTER | PRETTY FAST — IF YOU CAN FIND ONE
Average download speed: 19.8 Mbps
Average upload speed: 12.1 Mbps
Electronics and computer chain Micro Center also offers pretty good speeds, but it's important to note that the chain contains only 25 locations nationwide. With just a hair over two dozen stores scattered across 16 states, you might learn that a Micro Center is hard to find unless you're really looking.
MEIJER | BEST BIG-BOX STORE WITH SURPRISINGLY FAST WI-FI
Average download speed: 42.9 Mbps
Average upload speed: 34.9 Mbps
In the world of big-box Wi-Fi, there's Meijer and there's everybody else. The chain more than doubled the average download speeds of the next-closest competitor in the big-box/department store category, Bloomingdales, which registered just 17 Mbps. From there, Walmart, Sam's Club, Macy's, and the rest dropped to 12.5-13.4, while the rest put up only single digits.
BLOOMINGDALE’S | GET YOUR FREE WI-FI WHILE YOU STILL CAN
Average download speed: 17.0 Mbps
Average upload speed: 17.9 Mbps
Bloomingdale's is suffering from the same retail collapse that's plaguing brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide — but there are still more than 50 locations across several states. If you drop by one and feel the need to browse online while you shop in the store, you can expect upload and download speeds that are about the same.
WALMART | KING OF RETAIL, NOT FAST WI-FI
Average download speed: 13.4 Mbps
Average upload speed: 20.6 Mbps
Walmart offers its shoppers free wi-fi that's good but not great. Upload speeds are actually pretty impressive, in the case that you happen to spend your days at Walmart uploading large files.
SAM’S CLUB | GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT
Average download speed: 13.2 Mbps
Average upload speed: 15.5 Mbps
Sam's Club members can enjoy free Wi-Fi that is comparable to what you'll get at Walmart. It's in the middle of the pack, but speeds blow away what you'd find at BJ's, Target or Nordstrom.