Making The Most Of Free Wi-Fi At McDonald’s

Making The Most Of Free Wi-Fi At McDonald’s

McDonald’s rollout of free Wi-Fi offers a useful on-the-road option if you need connectivity in a hurry, but there’s some catches to be aware of.

As we reported back in October, McDonald’s has abandoned its long-standing arrangement of offering Wi-Fi from Telstra you have to pay for in favour of a free offering throughout its stores. Apparently, there’s more marketing advantage in offering a free service than cash through partnering with a paid one.

Since that announcement, the rollout has been proceeding fairly rapidly. According to a schedule published recently at OzBargain, the free option is already operational at company-owned stores across Australia, and at franchised stores in NSW and the ACT. Other franchised stores should all be in place by mid-March (there's no obvious way I know of to tell a franchised from a company-owned store other than asking on site).

Given McDonald's near-ubiquity in major centres, this is a potentially useful option for travellers, but you do need to be aware of the challenges. Firstly, McDonald's has made no secret of the fact that it is filtering the service to keep it family-friendly. That shouldn't present a challenge for most everyday activities you'd be prepared to conduct in a public place, but you might find that some of your favourite blogs get blocked.

Secondly, as with any free offering, various other services are likely to be blocked. It's not uncommon for outgoing SMTP to be barred with public Wi-Fi services, which is not an issue if you use webmail, but a problem if you prefer a mail client. (If anyone's got specific experience on this front, share it in the comments.) The My E65 blog also notes that there's a 50MB download limit and no P2P allowed.

Finally, one perhaps less obvious disadvantage of free Wi-Fi is that there's pretty much nothing you can do if something goes wrong: if you haven't paid, there's really no grounds for complaint, and screaming at the staff isn't going to help. I was reminded of this recently while testing out the Wi-Fi offering at Viva McDonald's, a flash new branch of the chain which has opened in (obviously) Las Vegas. The site's high-tech credentials -- including Wi-Fi and a brace of TV screens -- had been heavily played up in promotions around town, but when I got in there a working signal was nowhere to be found. But hell, I needed the coffee (and the exercise walking down there) anyway.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is not going to deny that the Bacon & Egg McMuffin Meal is one of his travel breakfast staples. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • “But hell, I needed the coffee” – you gotta be joshing me – coffee at Mcdonalds – let me take you aside – “that is NOT, nor will it ever be Coffee”, give it another name if you must – maybe BigMacDishWaterDelish but do not call it Coffee.

  • Relating to the 50Mb limit: There’s nothing stopping you (and this is actually recommended in the terms of service faq they have) from logging out of the web portal and logging back in. This gives you another 50Mb to continue.

    Provided you’re using a modern web browser that can pause and resume downloads you can simply pause, log in and out, then resume. I’ve downloaded podcasts that exceed 50Mb in this way.

  • I frequent Paramatta’s Lvl3 Macca’s in Westfield almost every day (internet fix before heading to the library to write a thesis).

    I have noticed issues with connection speeds. It seems to simply come and go. I can have full reception, yet have even the most simple ( pages time-out. It’s nothing major, but it’s definitely annoying.

    The 50MB limit is easy to get around as Tyashki points out.

    I am yet to try tunnelling p2p over ssh yet, but I assume it would work as long as the ports aren’t blocked.

  • Has anyone else received an SSL certificate error while browsing at a McDonalds hot spot? I have twice now, and wonder if they’re intercepting the SSL session (for inspection).

    Web content filtering is one matter, but if they’re compromising what should be secure web sessions there should be consequences for them.

    • This happened to me.. Have you checked your adapter settings ?
      Try going into the wireless adapter properties and editing the IPv4/IPv6 settings and allow it to automatically detect the IP Address. Should be sweet 🙂

  • Its not broadband its snail band with very slow wireless connection. This is not an open service, do not try updating your iPhone or iPad apps because it will just spin, locking up any app that was to be updated till u get home. No disclosure statement telling IOS users that this does not work. This left me up a river in a canoe without a paddle, not happy going to go to a real internet cafe and not MacDonalds in future. Love to see a business exec stuff his apps then sue these clowns for restricted access.

  • I’ll be trying my VPN at maccas, hopefully should let me access blocked sites, as wirelesslans(dotcomau)says corporate vpns have been tested working. Also means ronald mcdonald can’t see what i’ve been doing.

  • Maccas have done something to there wifi , can’t load Instagram Facebook messenger etc the list goes on all I can do now Is Google stuff wtf McDonald’s why u do things ? :/ :/

  • the wifi at macdonalds in this town you cant send emails, nor use facebook, and it’s slow as a slug. not recommended if you depend on a signal for important (or basic) matters. good luck if a full web page loads up. 2 thumbs down.

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