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Why Captive Portals are an Important Tool for Guest Wi-Fi

Why Captive Portals are an Important Tool for Guest Wi-Fi

If you’re like most of us, you welcome free Wi-Fi when you’re out and about. You connect in places like restaurants, airports, retail stores and coffee shops.

Owners of establishments like this use Wi-Fi to encourage patronage. They know you have other ways to stay connected, so they need to ensure the Wi-Fi connection they offer meets your expectations.

Many “moving parts” go into a great guest Wi-Fi experience: speed, coverage, unobtrusiveness, and so forth. One part that frequently gets overlooked is a “home page” to gain access to your guest Wi-Fi network, otherwise known as a captive portal.

What is a captive portal?

A captive portal is a web page that the user of a public-access network must often view and interact with before web access is granted. You’ll find captive portals in business centers, hotel lobbies, coffee shops, restaurants, retailers, and other venues that offer free or paid Wi-Fi access for Internet users.

Authentication

On the technical side, a captive portal enables some form of policy used to collect user information and determine whether to authorize access. This authentication process can be performed through a variety of means including:

  • emails
  • access codes
  • social media accounts
  • pay per use with credit card /debit card / PayPal
  • donations
  • loyalty programs
  • third-party databases

Fee for access?

Individual businesses decide how to grant visitor access to their Wi-Fi networks.

  • free for a limited amount of time (in exchange for contact information)
  • agreement to the terms and conditions
  • charging a fee for access
  • any form of access rights the venue wishes to include

Now that you understand some of the more important aspects of captive portals, let’s discuss the reasons why businesses set them up.

Business benefits of captive portals

The benefits to people who visit a business are obvious: they stay online while avoiding data charges on their mobile phone plans. Offering these benefits to customers, however, doesn’t come without costs.

While it might appear to cost less to offer guest Wi-Fi access without a captive portal, the following list ought to convince business decision makers that cheaper is not better, at least in this case.

Let people know you offer no-charge Wi-Fi

If you go to the expense of offering Wi-Fi to visitors, make sure they know you are the one offering it. When they choose your network SSID from their mobile devices, a “splash screen” appears. Your logo and the words “Free Wi-Fi” on the splash page create goodwill with anybody who needs this connection.

Engage with visitors

The portal page can go beyond mere identification.

  • Let users know about sales you’re having at your establishment
  • Offer quick, seamless sign-up for loyalty programs
  • Include your logo to be more brand-forward
  • Offer coupons for products in exchange for logging into your guest Wi-Fi
  • Encourage visitors to leave an email address on the page to sign up for your newsletter or other promotional communications
  • Embed links on the page to help visitors find and join any social media channels you might advertise on

Give visitors the chance to let you get to know them

You can learn more about users than just their email addresses. Visitors may log in to your guest network using a social network ID. If they do, you can ask permission to collect data (e.g. home location, age, educational background, interests). That’s data you can feed to advanced analytics engines. The insights they generate can inform your business decisions.

Keep traffic moving smoothly

No-charge Wi-Fi may please customers, but slow network performance may cause them to go elsewhere. Sometimes network issues occur in circumstances beyond the network owner’s control. For example, even high-quality networks may be no match for bandwidth hogs – people who continually download and upload large files. Their heavy usage may impinge on the network experience of other users.

A captive portal can be designed to discourage bandwidth abusers while enabling “normal” users to enjoy quick connections. In that same vein, Datavalet offers a Fair-Use Management tool that could help cut down on network loiterers without impacting other users with more proper use of the network.

The reasons for implementing a captive portal are many, as you’ve seen outlined. It is a gateway that keeps your network safe, promotes your brand, gathers information from your users, monitors traffic and gives your business the opportunity to engage with your audience.