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Want some of the best free Wi-Fi? Connect at Best Buy, study says

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Best Buy may be struggling, with reports over the last year of soft holiday sales, hundreds of recent layoffs and falling profits – but hey, the company's free Wi-Fi is apparently pretty great.

A study of U.S. public Wi-Fi spots by wireless network data crunchers OpenSignal found Best Buy has the second-fastest download speed among some of the largest public Wi-Fi networks around.

The Richfield-based retailer offers an average download speed of 3.879 megabits per second – beaten out only by McDonald's and its 4.187 Mbps speed.

"Obviously the former gives you a better burger," the site says, "but it also turns out that if you need to download a big file for work, popping into a McDonalds will get the job done faster than stopping off at your nearest BestBuy."

What do these speeds mean for popular activities?

For Skype video calls, you need an upload and download speed of 0.5 Mbps, Speedtest,net says. Bump that up to 1.5 Mbps upload and download for an HD video chat. (OpenSignal did not look at upload speeds in this study.) Netflix meanwhile requires 1.5 Mpbs download speed for streaming TV shows and movies – but at least 5 Mbps for streaming in HD.

The speeds found at McDonald's and Best Buy were well above the other five most-popular company networks tested – Lowes, Tim Horton's, Target, Dunkin Donuts and Panera. None of the other five reached download speeds of 2 Mbps, including Target's Wi-Fi networks and their 1.868 Mbps download speed.

The study separately looked at Starbucks' Wi-Fi, which dominated everyone else with 9.01 Mbps download on the Google-operated network. But Starbucks wasn't included on the comparison list with McDonald's and Best Buy, because it isn't one of the most-used Wi-Fi networks in America, Yahoo says.

Security on public networks

The Federal Trade Commission warns that, while public Wi-Fi is convenient, it can be less secure than a private network.

"Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt the information you send over the internet and aren’t secure," the commission says. "If you use an unsecured network to log in to an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and what you send. They could hijack your session and log in as you."

How do you know if it's secure and encrypted?

If you're on a website, make sure the URL address starts with "https" – the "s" stands for "secure," the FTC explains. If you don't see it, then don't send personal information to that site while on the Wi-Fi network.

Free public Wi-Fi networks usually aren't encrypted either. If it doesn't require a WPA or WPA2 password to log on, then it is likely not secure, the FTC says. The agency also offers additional precautionary tips.

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