According to Cisco, commercial public Wi-Fi hotspots are expected to grow from 8.8 million in 2016 to 15.3 million by 2021. With the rising costs of mobile data plans and caps on data usage, consumers are forever on the lookout for wireless hotspots, or wireless access points, that will allow them to remain connected at no cost. Wi-Fi has become an integral part of most enterprises. Employees use it for an ever-growing number of applications and devices, and businesses rely on it to interact with guests, visitors, customers, and their staff. Consumers use it to stay connected while they dine or shop, get promotions from their favorite businesses or simply to save themselves from data overages on their monthly bill. Although both public and private business-specific Wi-Fi make use of the same technology, there are a few very basic yet important distinctions to be made, as well as benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind.
The most important difference between public and private networks is obviously accessibility. Connecting to a public network requires little authentication, whereas accessing a private network is a much more tightly controlled process. Thus, the problem with using public hotspots is just that: they are public. Meaning that anyone can connect to these networks, including hackers and other cybercriminals. This highlights why it is essential for businesses to set up separate public and private wireless networks, so that confidential business data always remains safe and secure, while also capitalizing on the many commercial advantages that free guest Wi-Fi affords. Therefore, customers can fully benefit from the convenience of free internet access and protect their information by making sure that their session is encrypted each and every time they connect to a website on a public Wi-Fi network.
With the number of public Wi-Fi networks available today, it has quickly become a preferred way for consumers to access the internet in their downtime, or whenever they’re out and about. However, due to inherent security issues, public Wi-Fi is best suited for entertainment purposes – checking in on social media sites, browsing websites, listening to music or looking at videos. It’s also best to refrain from file-sharing on public networks. This means that public wi-fi networks are usually more restricted when it comes to usage – there is no way they are downloading or uploading as much as a private business network would, so they don’t need to have the same volume of data allowance.
Most businesses today understand the many opportunities that free guest Wi-Fi affords them. A well-planned and professionally managed guest Wi-Fi network offers a host of marketing advantages. More specifically, having public Wi-Fi in your venue allows you to collect valuable statistics on customers – their likes, their dislikes, the frequency of their visits, and their contact information. All this data can then be parlayed into actionable marketing initiatives such as follow-up communications, surveys and promotions. The collected data also allows businesses to develop and deploy personalized interactions and engagement activities – a decided advantage over the traditional one-sided marketing route. Last, but certainly not least, providing complimentary guest Wi-Fi in your venue allows businesses to appear on Wi-Fi locator maps, which can be an invaluable tool to help attract new patrons and grow your customer base. Naturally, these uses don’t translate to a private Wi-Fi network, as traditionally a private connection would only be used for employee and business purposes.
Given our increasing reliance on internet-based services in both our personal lives and in the workspace, it’s just common sense for most businesses today to have their own Wi-Fi network, as well as to offer complimentary guest Wi-Fi to their customers and visitors. Equally important is making sure these two networks are entirely separate for the sake of convenience, ease of use, and most importantly, for security.