Why Your Business Needs Free Wifi for Customers

two wifi symbols with arrows pointing to each other

Free wifi is fast becoming a must-have in public places. In hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, beauty salons - customers in all types of businesses expect to have internet connectivity. Installing guest wifi is a great way to give your customers something for free and doesn’t have to be expensive. Read on to find out why guest wifi is so important, how much it costs and how to set it up with your existing broadband internet access.


Why do I need guest wifi for my business?

outside view of shop with broadband router, television and mobile phone

First and foremost, guest wifi is great for business! Giving your customers free wifi access makes them stay longer. The longer your customers are on your premises, the more they’re likely to spend. Even more importantly, customers are more likely to return to businesses that have free wifi. As every business owner knows, it’s easier to retain customers than to attract new ones. Repeat customers become loyal customers, and loyal customers spend more!

A free internet connection for customers is also a marketing opportunity. With some smart thinking you could design your customer log-in page to include some advertising or special deals. The bottom line is, if your business offers free wifi it should lead to a marked improvement in your sales.

How much does guest wifi cost?

Guest wifi is an add-on to your business broadband service. Here’s an illustration of the costs of two of the most popular public wifi options for UK businesses:

Guest wifi costs for businesses
XLN business broadband BT business broadband
Unlimited 76 Mbps fibre broadband: £18.95 per month Superfast fibre essential 76 Mbps: £29.99 per month
Plug and play router BT Business Smart Hub router
Postage and packaging: £9.99 Postage and packaging: £8.50
Guest wifi: £4 per month Guest wifi: no extra charge
24 month contract 24 month contract
No limit to the number of connected users Maximum 13 connected users at once

Taking the BT guest wifi option as an example, business owners who want to be able to offer greater capacity, i.e. have more than 13 users connected at the same time, need to contact BT directly to get a quote. Other business broadband providers are less forthcoming with information about how to set up guest wifi, or what they charge for guest wifi. Whatever business broadband deal you choose, we advise you to ask your internet service provider (ISP) about their fees and charges for guest wifi.

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Do I need BT wifi hotspots?

mobile phone with wifi symbol

A wifi hotspot isn’t a separate piece of hardware; it’s basically the term used to describe a public area that has wireless internet access. To allow customers to get online in your establishment you need to have a wifi signal and internet speeds that are capable of supporting multiple users and devices.

You usually don’t need any separate equipment to set up your public wifi. There are settings in your wireless broadband router that you can adjust to set up a guest network, separate from your main one that you use for internet-enabled tools, such as your point of sale.

With guest wifi, customers complete a quick registration process the first time they log in, then the guest network remembers their device so they connect automatically every time they return. For anyone thinking that BT wifi hotspot is the answer to how to get free high-speed internet access, we need to clarify that these wifi hotspots are in fact a UK-wide network of paid access points. BT broadband customers can log on to a BT wifi hotspot for free but everyone else needs to pay; prices start from £4 per hour to £39 for 30 days.


What bandwidth do I need for guest wifi?

man holding a broadband router with a question mark above his head

If you’re going to offer customer wifi, you need to have reliable and fast internet. Your customers will see it as part of your overall service and you want to make a good impression. Don’t forget that regular customers will start to take your free wifi for granted so if it fails they will see it as a failure on your part, and might even take their business elsewhere if your internet goes down on a regular basis.

Your business broadband needs to be able to cope with the demands of the extra traffic introduced by guest users without noticeably slowing down the connection speed. If you have any doubts at all about your current bandwidth capacity and whether or not it’s feasible for you to add guest users to your network, check with your business broadband provider. Ask them about the minimum guaranteed donwload speed on your contract and whether that is sufficient to support multiple guest users.


If your broadband speed simply isn’t up to scratch, find out if you’re eligible for a government grant to fund an internet connection upgrade. You might also be interested in checking your broadband speed; there are steps your internet provider should take if your internet speed is consistently below a certain minimum level.


What are the security risks?

restaurant with shield

You need to be able to configure the settings of your guest wifi so that customers logging on as guest users can’t access important business information. Your sales data, staff and customer personal details, and information about your accounts could all be at risk if you don’t make the most of the security features of your wireless connection.

You can do this through your router’s security settings, which are usually managed via an app and/or your account portal on your internet service provider’s website. Look for a setting called Wifi Protected Access or WPA2 and use that for your router.

Your main business internet network needs to be separate from your guest wifi network. Do not simply give out the broadband password that you and your staff use to access the internet! To offer free wifi it’s strongly recommended to have two separate wireless access points: one for your public wifi service and the other access point for your business activities. To separate the wireless network for your customers from the one for you and your employees you need two service set identifiers (SSID).

broadband router and mobile phone

SSID refers to the name of your network. It often looks something like this: ISPname-1234-3G. Using the administrator interface for your router (accessible via your ISP account login or app), change the existing network name to something recognisable as your main business network, e.g. AlexCoffeeShop-private. Then find the option to add a guest wifi network and give it an appropriate name, e.g. AlexCoffeeShop-free-wi-fi.

Allowing customers to get connected to a public wireless network, distinct from the main business network, gives another level of protection between your business information and any potential hackers spreading malware or accessing your data for nefarious purposes. For more on this, read our guide to internet security for businesses, including why you don’t need to change your password as often as you thought.

Broadband for businesses To set up a public wireless network so your customers can get free internet access, you need to have the facilities of a business broadband router. Residential internet equipment usually does not have the option to add a guest wifi network. Don’t worry though, we’ve found the best high speed internet deals for small businesses on limited budgets.

What permissions should guest wifi users have?

megaphone loudspeaker

Do you want users to be able to stream videos or just access email and view webpages? Using public wifi hotspots for a few minutes of browsing or exchanging WhatsApp messages is one thing, but there’s a chance some people will take advantage of free internet to install themselves for hours in your place without spending any money.

There are a few ways you can deal with these so-called network squatters, some of which depend on the type of business you own. You can set up permissions on your guest wifi network to block certain webpages. For instance, if you don’t want users to stream YouTube videos, create a rule in your My Account settings to block anything from youtube.com. If you’ve got a coffee shop, for instance, you could make a rule that customers can only connect to the internet if they make a purchase.

Summary

Broadband internet services are increasingly integral to businesses of all kinds, and since customers expect to be able to go online and stay connected everywhere they go, it’s simply good business sense to provide access to the internet in public spaces such as shops, bars and cafes.

Setting up your establishment with a free wifi hotspot should be done with care, ideally in consultation with your internet provider to make sure you have the appropriate high speed wireless equipment and security measures in place before you allow customers to connect to wifi.

Want to know more?Find out the truth about the 5G revolution and how it will affect your business. Plus, with the UK due to leave the EU in 2019, we bring you the pros and cons of Brexit for business telecommunications.