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Airports. Train stations. Grotty fast food joints. These are all places where you may find yourself spending more time than you would like, and it isn’t always time that you are going to particularly enjoy.
But then.. wait! You see a sign that says there is free internet available! You are saved! You power up your devices, access the network… and your joy turns to horror when you see that only the first ten minutes are free.
After that… well, you’re going to have to pay, and pay dearly, for a service that is available for free in even the cheapest of hostels in Asia.
This seems a little unfair. Luckily, I’m here today to tell you how to turn those paltry free minutes into a never ending supply of minutes using an easy piece of software and a tiny bit of time.
Ethics warning: No doubt this kind of thing isn’t exactly ethically sound, so make up your own mind as to whether or not you want to follow the instructions below. Personally I find being gouged for a service that can be found for free in so many other places ethically flawed anyway, but your morals may vary. Let’s get on with this.
It’s worth giving a quick overview of how this works, so you know what you are doing. Basically, when you sign up to a network offering time or bandwidth limited access, they will ask you to create a username and password.
A-ha! You are thinking. All you have to do is sign up with a different username and password after your time runs out, and the problem is solved. Sadly, this would be a bit too easy a workaround, and in 99% of cases, won’t work.
You see, every piece of networking hardware, including the wireless card inside your computer, has a unique code assigned to it, known as a media access controller address, or MAC address. This is a 12 character code made up of the numbers 1-10 and the lefters A-F, (hexadecimal in geek speak).
When you sign up to these “free” networks, your computer helpfully provides your MAC address to the network, which records it, so the next time you come back to sign up, even if you choose a different user name and password, your computer will give the game away by sending over the same MAC address. No more free internet for you.
The Software You Need and How to Use It
The workaround is to change the MAC address that your computer provides to the wireless network. This used to be a slightly involved process involving editing the registry, but there is now a piece of software that does this quickly, easily, and for free.
After you’ve downloaded it and installed it, launch it to be greeted by a screen like this:
Looks complicated, right? Fear not. Usage is very simple. Just press the button that says “Random MAC Address”, ensure the checkbox that says “Automatically restart network connection to apply changes” is ticked, and then press “Change Now!” at the bottom of the page.
Your network connection will restart, and a box will popup to inform you that the MAC address has been changed. Now you can reconnect to that wireless network and sign up again, all set for another quick burst of internet access. If for some reason it doesn’t work, just pick another random MAC address and try again.
Once you are all done, you can use TMAC to change your MAC address back to its original setting with the “Restore Original” option.
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The main disadvantage of this technique is that you will have to go through the process for each block of time that you are offered. If you are on a network that offers 15 minutes of free time, then you’ll have to change your MAC address and create a new login every fifteen minutes.
One way to mitigate this is to just use the internet at the beginning and end of your time, and work offline for the rest. So for example, you could first download your mail, (Offline Google Mail is particularly handy), then compose replies to everyone, before logging on again to send them.
Also, this workaround won’t work on your smartphone because MAC addresses are a little harder to change on those. Luckily, we’ve put together a great guide for sharing your internet connection across multiple devices using software such as Connectify, which will get you round this problem quite handily.
Got any other tips for getting around time limited “free” Internet? Think this technique is worth a shot? Let us know in the comments below!