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.
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.
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:
Individual businesses decide how to grant visitor access to their Wi-Fi networks.
Now that you understand some of the more important aspects of captive portals, let’s discuss the reasons why businesses set them up.
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.
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.
The portal page can go beyond mere identification.
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.
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.