Five factors to consider when rolling out free customer Wi-Fi

Wireless connectivity has quickly evolved from being a novelty to the norm in many public spaces. From coffee shops and shopping malls to airport terminals and sporting grounds, customers expect to be able to connect to a free Wi-Fi network from their personal device.

As well as offering convenience for users, such services also deliver big value to the business providing them. People are encouraged to linger for longer while the business also has the opportunity to gather valuable data that can be used to improve loyalty. However, before rolling out a new free Wi-Fi service, there are five key factors a business should consider:

  1. Security
    Unfortunately, there are a number of cyber threats designed to specifically target public Wi-Fi hotspots and steal personal data such as passwords and credit card numbers. It’s important the infrastructure chosen to support the planned service has an inbuilt Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS).This will ensure the business has the ability it needs to automatically and accurately identify all wireless devices connecting to its Wi-Fi network’s access points. It will also make it possible to detect and prevent rogue access points that pretend to be legitimate but are actually set up by criminals. A powerful WIPS will also be able to detect and prevent man-in-the-middle, evil twin, and honeypot attacks.
  2. Business-driven Analytics
    A business offering free Wi-Fi will be keen to know how, where, and when visitors are using the service. In this way, the business will be able to maximise its investment in wireless connectivity and optimise the experience that customers receive. Evaluating data around site metrics such as footfall, dwell time, and conversion will support better business decision making. Being able to see all the collected data in a customisable dashboard and view near real-time and historical usage data is a must, so ensure this is a feature of the infrastructure selected.
  3. Scalable management
    Business people are already very busy and so management of the Wi-Fi network needs to be as “hands off” as possible. Selecting a cloud-based Wi-Fi management platform can allow a business to easily scale from running one to an unlimited number of access points across multiple locations, without the need to install controller infrastructure. Access points can be grouped in many ways including location, building, floor, and customer to maintain consistent policies across all locations.
  4. Engagement and marketing tools
    To maximise the marketing opportunities that free customer Wi-Fi networks create, it’s important to deploy tools that can turn a simple wireless connectivity offering into a rich Wi-Fi experience for customers, guests and employees. The business needs the ability to readily create stunning splash pages without the need for web design skills. The tools should also allow the business to reach visitors with engaging videos and surveys, offer targeted promotions, and encourage them to become regular visitors.
  5. Effective deployment planning
    Before starting out on a free Wi-Fi service project, it’s important to carefully plan exactly what will be required and how it should best be deployed. How many access points will be needed? Where should they be installed? How will security and network performance be monitored? Working with a chosen vendor to confirm all these points will mean the infrastructure provides the best possible level of service for customers.

By considering each of these key points, a business can ensure it puts in place a Wi-Fi network that is well received by customers and adds real value for the business – a true win/win for both parties.

Mark Sinclair, ANZ Regional Director, WatchGuard Technologies

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