Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How To Provide Free WiFi To Your Customers

If you own a restaurant, bar, cafe, club or any type of business where members of the public visit and you want to either keep them on your premises longer or attract new customers by offering free WiFi there are a few things you must take into consideration first.

Many businesses that already have an Internet connection simply give WiFi access to their customers by either leaving their WiFi connection 'open' by not putting a password on it or by giving out the password at the bar or writing it on a menu board.  Which ever of these options they choose, each comes with a number of problems.  

Firstly if this is the Internet connection they use for the day to day running of their business to process card payments, run POS systems etc. there is a real danger that by letting customers use it they will potentially have access to this information.  Secondly, unless they have changed the default login details to the WiFi router, anyone could login to their router and make changes since the default login details are usually just admin and password.  They might just want to prank them by changing the network name (SSID) to something stupid or obscene or worse, completely change all the settings, locking them out of the router, forcing them to do a factory reset.  And thirdly, by leaving the connection open or freely giving out the password means that not only their customer will be using it but customers in nearby cafes/bars and anyone within range of the WiFi signal will be too.

There are a number of security issues for their customers if they either leave the connection open or publicly display the password.  Hackers can use a number of free tools available on the Internet to 'sniff' traffic sent over a WiFi network.  Basically this means they will be able to see all the information, including usernames and passwords sent over the network, if a number of customers find that their accounts have been hacked due to using a business's free WiFi they probably won't come back or worse, will post negative reviews about their experience online, which as many businesses owners know, can destroy a business’s reputation.

The last problem, often overlooked, is that the company won't retain any customer contact details such as email address or Facebook name for future promotions.  You can read a post about 'Social WiFi' here.

Providing secure, free (or even paid for) WiFi to your customers doesn't require the purchase of expensive equipment or loads of technical knowledge.  There are a number of options available which I will discuss later.

Free vs. Paid  

Internet access via WiFi is now considered essential by many customers, especially in places like hotels/hostels and cafes.  A cafe which has WiFi will attract more customers than the one across the street which doesn't.

Choosing between free or paid for WiFi (or both) can have a real impact on your business.

If you choose to offer free, unlimited WiFi access in a cafe you will attract more customers but you always get a few people who will buy the cheapest item on the menu and sit there for hours, taking up seats which could be filled by those willing to spend more.  

On the flip side you will get customers who will stay longer because of the free Internet access and buy more food and drinks during their visit.

If you choose to only offer paid for WiFi you will stop attracting some customers BUT it will provide additional income to your business and you will attract a different demographic who are likely to be more affluent and will spend more.  
In a recent report, 1 in 7 people in the United Kingdom are now self employed, often their home being the only business premises which means they are likely to want somewhere else to work so they aren't stuck at home 24/7.  These type of people would prefer to go somewhere a little more peaceful and professional and would be prepared to pay for the privilege, they would also become repeat customers.  Selling weekly or monthly vouchers at a discount would encourage them to visit more often.  If your cafe is near a hotel which charges for WiFi (as many do) it is usually very expensive, you could just undercut them and attract their customers who would also buy food and drinks.

If you choose to offer both free and paid for access you can get the best of both worlds, I would suggest  offering 1 hour free access and charge for anything over, this will get rid of the seat hoggers but still attract the high spenders and passing trade.

Do I need a license or permit to offer or sell WiFi access? 

No.  You do not need any license, permit or permission to offer free or paid for WiFi. 

Do I need a special business Internet service provider?
To provide WiFi you must have an Internet connection, as you will be sharing it or even 'reselling' it through paid access, you will most likely need a business package.  They usually cost about the same as a domestic connection but allow resale and the customer support is usually a bit better.

What do I need to offer WiFi at my business?

You basically have three options.

1. Go with a company like Verizon or ATT in the USA or BTWiFi or The Cloud in the UK.  They will provide the equipment and handle all the technical stuff and you will benefit from their brand.  Often this option is free, if you have a BT (UK) router you should be able to just turn on BTWIFI (formally BT-Openzone) and earn some revenue from the sale of access but I wouldn't expect a huge number of sales.
You can sometimes earn some revenue from sales of WiFi access but it is probably best if you just want a hassle free option which gives your customers free WiFi access.

2. Use a WiFi provider company who specialize in the installation of WiFi systems, they will usually install these systems in hotels, schools, hospitals, campsites etc.  Again they will do all the technical stuff but you will have the opportunity to earn some revenue.  They all have different business models but often they work on either, a 50/50 revenue split or they will charge a monthly fee and let you keep 100% of the revenue.  If you only need to provide WiFi to one location they will probably charge you for some equipment, usually around $100.  If you have a large site or multiple site they might give you the equipment for free.

3. Use special WiFi hotspot software.  There is lots of free and paid for software available for creating WiFi hotspots, many with the option to charge for access.  Some of the systems have a monthly charge or take a cut of the revenue.  The setup can sometimes be a bit technical as you will need to install software on a router. 
Personally I am a huge fan of the Cloudtrax system which I have used to build a public WiFi network.  I have been using it for over a 18 months without any problems. The system/software is free and doesn't have any other fees but you will need to buy a Special WiFi Router, the OM2P, however it comes with all the software installed, you just plug it in and have your WiFi hotspot up and running in minutes.  The best value one is about $75 and will be more than suitable for a cafe or restaurant.
Cloudtrax Open-Mesh OM2P WiFi Router
The Cloudtrax system, used in conjunction with an Open-Mesh WiFi router like the OM2P lets you offer free or paid for access or both, it has easy to use templates to create professional looking landing pages and full Paypal integration to automate card payments if you want to charge for access.  You can also manually create access vouchers which can be sold at the counter or given out with purchases.  

The ONLY downside of the Cloudtrax system is that you don't capture the users email address/details or get a Facebook Like as discussed in this post about Social WiFi.

***Update November 2014***

Open-Mesh have released a few new products which support 'Facebook WiFi' and allow you to capture user demographics, details and advertising on Facebook for free.  Facebook WiFi is only available on newer models, such as the MR900.

If you use the non Facebook WiFi enabled devices you can still redirect the user to a page of your choice after they login (known as a 'walled garden') such as your company's website or Facebook page and encourage them to Like the page in return for a discount or something free.


  1. We have at worst case 75 people with wireless devices at a time, but maybe only 30 that use the wireless, when in our business. Does this device allow us to limit band width and lease time, and how many do I need, what do they cost, and do they connect to my exisiting network, as access points, so to speak. thank you.

    1. Hi, Yes the Cloudtrax system, and many others allow you to set the bandwidth and access time. The number of users per access point is unlimited but the number of people who can use it at the same time without experiencing a slow down of the network depends on the speed of internal processor and RAM of the access point. Generally speaking the more expensive an access point the more people it can handle. The Open Mesh routers have as much or more power than similar units in a higher price range.

      I visited a 70 bed Hostel and bar which just used two Open-Mesh routers and the owner said the customers were happy with the service. Personally I would probably use at least 3 for that number of people. But then it depends on how data hungry the networks users are.

      The Open-Mesh routers start from about $80 USD but you can spend thousands on really high grade kit.
      The access points just plug straight in to any Internet router

  2. I have read at amazon user reviews that this product when used for a hotspot setup with a splash page doesn't redirect https request to the spalsh page and the request just times out. If so, how can a customer using this as a hotspot will be able to use a website using https like gmail?

    1. Hi, I have never had any issues with https and the Cloudtraz/Open-Mesh system.

      Was this just one review or many? Can you provide the link to the comment?


  3. Hello Spaceshanty101, I want to create a wifi space/network across say 35km radius via multiple smaller wifi you think the OpenMesh system is robust enough to achieve this?

    1. Hi, Yes the Cloutrax system would be ideal for this size of deployment. i would suggest breaking it up into smaller networks of around 100 units. You can enable, by simply ticking a box in the dashboard to allow vouchers to work on all networks in the same account. Users will not notice when they move from one area to another.

  4. Can you comment on deploying different ads on different networks within the same master account?

    1. The splash/landing page for each network can be edited with plain text/pictures and HTML so you can place any ad you wish on the splash page. You will not be able to display ads anywhere else on the network, e.g. you will not be able to display any ads to users after they pass the splash page.

    2. So for a 100 mini networks I would need to manage each page separately? Is there a way to deploy/manage ads from the master account for instance....can I place an ad today and deploy it from the master account to each network splash page for instance?

    3. Hi, You will only have one splash page per network, any content/ads will be displayed to every user when they connect to any of the APs on that network.

      So if you had one network with 100 APs/wiFi routers you would only need to edit the one splash page.

  5. can i use this system in Malaysia?

    1. Yes, This system can be used anywhere in the world. WiFi uses the same frequency worldwide.

  6. Just one more question, after you set up your splash page can you specify a web page/link the user must use in order to continue?

    1. The Cloudtrax splash page will be the first page the user sees after connecting to the network, there they can use free access (if you enable it), buy access or enter a voucher code if they have already purchased access. After they login you can choose a page they are redirected to, I just use, but you can choose any page you like.

      You can turn the splash page off so as soon as a user connects to the network they can just start surfing like an open network. But this will mean you cannot charge for access.

      You can use Chillispot AAA which is 3rd-Party Chillispot compatible AAA server instead of the Cloutrax one but I have never used it so cannot offer any advice.

    2. In the case when you previously set up your city wide network, was it possible to assign multiple gateways as part of your main network and later allow them to mesh when you were able to add intermediate nodes to join locations?

    3. With the Cloudtrax system all Nodes/Gateways/Repeaters will automatically mesh with other units within range.

  7. I Want Wifi Hotspot Business Public Area.

    What Is the Best Model in 8-9 Km Range

    Please Help Me........

    My Skype Name - manisankardas200 -

  8. Do I need a license or permit to offer or sell WiFi access? in india

  9. Vikas, As wifi is an unlicensed band you don't need a licence or permit to run a wifi business. However if you are running a business you may need some kind of permit, I don't know what you need in India, but I know you guys are very entrepreneurial so it might be best to ask a local business owner what permits you need. Good luck!

  10. hi i would love to start up a Wi-Fi hot spot business..
    may you please mail me so we could have a one on one chat for further advice

  11. how many routers do i need for abt 100 users.

  12. Outstanding articles and help thank you so much for the work you're doing with Wi-Fi Enterprise

  13. Bonjour a tous Je vous partage mon site ou je partage des codes free wifi pour tous et fonctionnel code free wifi

  14. Hi, Hopefully this thread is still live? Good job and good questions. I learned a lot today!

  15. I run lots of open mesh networks. I have been using them in customers for a couple of years now.

    Brilliant, but I need to capture email - as I expect all hotel installs but there is no easy way of doing this.

  16. can i use one COMFAST CF-WA700 router to connect people with the range of 1km from my business centre


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