As a customer myself I know that we all like to have free Guest Wi-Fi pretty much wherever we go now, it’s a part of our culture. Business owners like to provide this service as well and ultimately allow their customers to promote their business while they’re on-site.
It’s very tempting to opt for the pre-configured Wireless network that comes with your ISPs (Internet Service Providers) Wi-Fi router. I’ve seen a lot of businesses put up signs detailing the Guest Wi-Fi network name (SSID) and password that the customer needs to look for. Some of them on well printed leaflets and some written by hand on small pieces of paper, using details like in Figure 1:
This kind of setup is mostly down to a lack of knowledge in the area and for a quick fix. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the downsides of setting up your own ‘Guest Wi-Fi’ service. This is from both a technical and business point of view.
The use of ISP equipment and legacy technology
There are many draw backs with using ISPs equipment. The starting point would be the physical technology itself and its limitations. A Wireless Router is a hybrid device, it’s effectively a router and a mini Access Point all-in-one. A jack of all trades with limited hardware space. Whereas a Wireless Access Point is designed solely for facilitating Wireless networks. See Figure 2 for what an Access Point looks like. It’s the best device to use for a professional service. They allow you to configure many more aspects of Radio Frequency than a Wireless Router does, such as transmit power levels which is important for the coverage of your WiFi.
The equipment quickly becomes dated and businesses end up using legacy physical and 802.11 standards without knowing. Figure 3 shows the standard Sky router config which only offers 2.4Ghz, which is a very contended technology. Wireless routers might also only offer legacy security and encryption like WEP, which is easily cracked.
For a small business offering Guest Wi-Fi the bare minimum you should be running is the following. A dual band environment (2.4Ghz ISM & 5Ghz UNII bands) using these standards 802.11a/g/n/ac via an Access Point if possible. Using these standards allows all public devices to connect to the WiFi apart from legacy clients that are 802.11b. Eliminating 802.11b from your network and its 1, 2, 5.5, 11 Mbps data rate will provide a much greater service for everyone on your Wi-Fi.
Prior to install
A frequency spectrum & protocol analysis should be performed, which a lot of businesses don’t even know about. This will highlight interference from other non-Wi-Fi related devices (Walkie Talkies/Microwaves etc) and also the channels that are being used by other WiFi Routers and Access Points. Having your equipment on the same channel as your neighbour will cause Co-Channel Interference (CCI) which seriously degrades your Wi-Fi. The analysis provides you with this information and enables you to avoid these channels (which you can statically set).
The final technical point
Is about the placement of your Access Point. Many providers such as Sky’s ‘The Cloud’ are installing access points for many venues out there but are not advising their customers about where they should be installed, the optimum location. My local pub has their Sky Wireless Access Point underneath the bar so that it’s out of sight. The Wi-Fi is subsequently very poor for the simple reason that the Radio Frequencies can’t propagate properly as there are many obstructions in the way. Within the Wireless community there is a jovial hashtag called #BadFi by @heyeddie that gives examples of some badly placed Access Points, check it out. Some of them are very interesting to say the least :)
To clarify the placement aspect, you should see an Access Point in the analogy of a ceiling light. For the light to cover the room properly it needs to be up high and in a central location, the same applies to Wireless. Due to various restraints this isn't always possible unfortunately. The location is very important if a top-notch service is to be provided. Figure 4 is an example of a good placement.
From a business point of view