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Businesses that expect their customers to hang around for a while usually provide access to a free Wi-Fi connection.  These include coffee shops, hotels, libraries, and even a few parks.  Most people use these connections for their smartphones, but why do that when you can already access the internet through the cellphone company’s tower network?  The answer is obvious to anyone who’s had to pay the phone bill:  Cellphone data plans are expensive.

There are a few good reasons why cellphone data costs more than a wireless connection to a home or business internet account.  Towers need to pick up and deliver potentially thousands of calls simultaneously and then route them between each tower without losing too much information.  They need to switch frequencies on the fly so that people can hear and speak to people at the other end at the same time, and they also need to follow internet protocol for users who are sending texts or streaming videos.

On the other hand, telco companies also tend to add hidden fees to their bills so the advertising number can look good.  They also provide a low, flat rate for the first few gigabits of data but then demand much higher fees the moment you go over your monthly limit.  And while the number might sound reasonable the first time you see it, the fees are much more per megabit than what you pay for the basic plan and they quickly add up for smartphone users who are always online.

By contrast, a basic business internet connection will come with a higher monthly fee but never go up no matter how much you use it.  That’s why businesses can afford to let all their visitors use their connection throughout the day.  And while a traditional cable connection will slow down as more visitors show up and use the Wi-Fi, a modern fiber internet connection has enough speed and dedicated support to give everyone the speed they need even during peak hours.

So the reason you always look for a Wi-Fi password when you decide to spend time somewhere is because land-based business internet connections are much cheaper than using a telco connection for everything.  Cell towers use some amazing technology to keep people connected no matter where they go, but between the expense of maintaining and updating the network and the big telco companies’ business practices, a local wireless connection will always be cheaper.