Today’s customers don’t give praise when businesses offer WiFi, rather they have come to expect it. From your home to your bus to your dentist to your favorite café, WiFi is everywhere. And it’s usually free. Offering a WiFi hotspot to customers can help build loyalty and boost sales, but if it’s not done correctly, it can actually backfire. Let’s run through a few things to consider when setting up a wireless internet connection for your customers.
Understanding Your Customers
The first thing you will need to do is consider your customers. Who are they and how will they be using your wireless hotspot? How many people will access the network at the same time? How long will they be connected? Will they quickly check email while waiting in line or sit down and steam videos? Answering these questions will help guide you to the right equipment and service package that you’ll need to offer a reliable connection.
Getting the Right Equipment and Service Package
Having the right equipment is critical. We have all been at hotels or airports that advertise free WiFi, but when you attempt to use it, it’s so slow that it’s essentially useless. This poor performance can come from low quality hardware or a lack of bandwidth from your internet provider.
First, the hardware. If you don’t have internet in your store today, you will need a modem and a wireless router. While consumer models will often work fine for most small businesses, depending on the size of your store, I would recommend getting a premium model router that can handle more users at the same time. Ideally you will want to purchase a wireless router that is built to accommodate guest access. This will create a separate WiFi signal for public access, so your private network remains secure. Higher-end models offer the ability to set up a captive portal, which requires your users to agree to a Terms of Service before logging on to your internet. This can legally protect you and your business as well as help filter content (adult content, gambling, etc.) and manage bandwidth usage of your guests (limit video streaming).
Next, the internet service package. There are a number of national as well as local internet providers and the price and service quality varies drastically by location. The service you need depends on your expected customer usage. Let your provider know the expected type and number of users for your business and they will make sure you get the right package.
Securing Your Network
Offering a WiFi hotspot to customers does add a few complications to your store’s network that you should be aware of.
While it seems simple to just let customers use the existing WiFi that your business uses, this isn’t secure and it increases the risk of hacking and data theft from your company. Don’t do it. If you’re on a budget and already have a network setup, then at a minimum you should set up a guest network and encrypt your network with WiFi Protected Access (WPA) or WiFi Protected Access II (WPA2), which are security protocols designed to protect wireless computer networks. To add additional security, you can turn off the ‘SSID broadcast’ on your private WiFi network so your visitors won’t even see it show up on their ‘available networks’ screen. If you go this route, I would strongly recommend getting an expert to test your network to make sure it is as secure as possible. It’s a small price to pay to avoid any potential data theft down the road. Additionally, if you’re providing WiFi on the same network that powers your point-of-sale system, make sure that you know how to get back up and running quickly if you experience a blackout or glitch.
As a best practice, I recommend setting up a separate wireless access point for dedicated customer use. This is the most secure option and will keep your private business information safe from anyone using your public WiFi hotspot. For either scenario, you can find affordable local support that can help set up your network and test your security features.