Saturday, 8 November 2014

Open-Mesh MR900 Professional 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz WiFi Hotspot Router

 MR900 Open-Mesh WiFi Router

In this post I am going to discuss the new MR900 WiFi router from Open-Mesh. If you have read any of my other posts you will know that I am a huge fan of Open-Mesh equipment as it makes the setting up of WiFi networks or hotspots super simple.

If you want to bring WiFi to your coffee shop, cafe, hostel/hotel, office, college, campsite or even start a WiFi hotspot business then I would highly recommend using Open-Mesh equipment.

Open-Mesh have been around for a few years now and have really shaken up the WiFi hotspot equipment industry.  Previously the market was dominated by brands such as Ubiquitous, Meraki & Engenius, don't get me wrong, they still produce really solid products but they can be expensive, even some with monthly fees on top of the equipment cost.

I discovered Open-Mesh a few years ago and have used and loved it ever since.  It is so simple to use, no coding or technical knowledge is needed and the Cloudtrax system you use to control your WiFi hotspot/network is, unlike many others, totally free.  All the revenue the hotspot generates is yours to keep (less the 3.4% Paypal fee for processing card payments).  Most other WiFi hotspot management systems either have a monthly fee or take a percentage of the revenue.

The flagship WiFi router from Open-mesh was the OM2P range which is still amazing, and at just $75 each makes setting up a WiFi business super cost effective.

But they have now introduced a new model to their range, the MR900 which I think has huge potential.  Firstly the design is great, non branded and plain white in colour it will work in any setting, school, hotel, coffee shop or office and is ideal for resellers or WiFi installers.  It looks just like a smoke alarm and can be wall or ceiling mounted anywhere to give maximum coverage.

Being Open-Mesh setup and installation is quick and easy, just add it to your Cloudtrax dashboard, connect it to an Internet connection and your done.

Now the specs are what make it really special.  It is designed for a high number of concurrent users, Open-Mesh claim up to 100 which is really impressive.  Of course it would depend on what users on the network are doing, 100 users would be fine for just web browsing, but everyone streaming HD video or gaming would mean you would have to revise those numbers down a little.

In addition to a faster internal processor, more RAM, 3x3 MIMO antennas, the MR900 supports both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequency.  Now most WiFi router and devices use the 2.4Ghz range, and it is getting congested which leads to poor performance and signal dropouts.  The 5Ghz range is much less used so performance is much better and more laptops and smartphones are being produced which will work on both the 2.4 and 5Ghz frequencies.  I expect the 5Ghz range will become more popular as it is subject to less interference and can transmit twice as much data as 2.4Ghz, ideal for streaming HD video over WiFi.  By investing in a dual 2.4 & 5Ghz WiFi router you will keep everyone happy and future proof yourself to some extent.
There is also an outdoor enclosure available for the MR900 so it is suitable for campsites, RV parks, sports grounds, parks and any outside area you want to bring WiFi to.

MR900 Specs
  • 50 - 100 Concurrent Users
  • 2.4GHz & 5Ghz Support
  • 100mW Power
  • Speed Upto 900Mbps
  • Responsive AR9558 700mhz Processor
  • 128MB DRAM
  • 3 x 3 MIMO 
  • Six Internal Antennas
  • 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • 2.4/5Ghz/Power/Ethernet LEDs
  • Power Over Ethernet (PoE)
  • Indoor or Outdoor Installation (Outdoor Enclosure Required)
  • Facebook WiFi

As well as all these new features it still has all the benefits of the Open-Mesh/Cloutrax systems.  Full meshing capabilities, including with OM2P units.  Centralised cloud based WiFi network management system, check and control your entire network from anywhere with a computer and Internet connection.  Built in customisable splash/landing pages, Paypal payment integration, real time network states, usage reports, outage alerts and more.  In fact Cloudtrax has just has a bit of a makeover with even more options added, but it is still free!

One new feature, which I mentioned was missing in one of my other posts, is a Facebook login function, know as 'Facebook WiFi' or 'Social WiFi'.

Basically this means that when people want to use your free WiFi they just use their Facebook login details to get access, this is probably more suited for coffee shops/cafes where people are in a hurry.  Every time someone uses your cafe's WiFi and logs in with Facebook they must 'Check in' to your cafe on Facebook, this will be shown on their Facebook profile and to all their friends, essentially giving a recommendation to your cafe to all their friends.  They will also be presented with the option to 'Like' your cafe's Facebook page, as I mentioned in this post, even if you hate Facebook/social media you can't ignore its free advertising potential for your business and you won't have to go and make a super personnel Facebook profile for yourself to benefit from it either.

So the MR900 seems to tick all the boxes, supports up to 100 simultaneous users, high power, high speed, dual 2.4 & 5Ghz support, Supports Facebook WiFi, Cloud controlled, PoE support and more.  Everything looks great but a few weeks or months of real world testing will be needed to get a good idea of performance, but based on Open-Mesh's past products I can't foresee any major issues.

You can see a few more details and price on Amazon.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

What Is Social WiFi?

Social WiFi
Social WiFi is basically a WiFi hotspot which requires users to use their social media accounts to login to the free WiFi hotspot, although sometimes referred to as Facebook WiFi, users can usually login with most of the major social networks like Twitter, Linkedin and Google+

The main benefit Social WiFi Hotspots is that customers will be required to 'Like' your business's Facebook page in order to access the free WiFi.  Just in case you having been living in a cave for the past decade or don't use social media here is a quick explanation of the benefits of social media and social media marketing.

The average Facebook user has 338 friends, every time they share a picture, a post or link, all of their 338 friends will see it.  Every time a customers visits and logs in to your WiFi Hotspot with their social media account, Likes your business's Facebook Page to get access, that Like/recommendation will be shared with all of their 338 friends.  Just 10 people using your free WiFi will result in 3380 people basically seeing an advert for your business, for free.

I understand many people are reluctant to open a personal Facebook account for a number of reasons but you can just create an extremely basic profile, use a pseudonym, include virtually no information, no picture and use this profile to create a Facebook page. (Facebook Profiles are for people, Facebook Pages are for Businesses, Bands, Celebrities, Community Groups etc.).  There are loads of simple guides online and on Youtube videos showing you how to set up a Facebook page for your business or you could ask a social media savvy friend to set one up for you.

The other main benefit of 'Social WiFi' is that you will begin to start building a powerful customer database for marketing and access to customer information such as age, sex, relationship status, employment status and more which will help you to target customers more effectively.  You can use your Facebook Page to promote your business by offering discounts to those Fans who share your offers, which will encourage engagement on social media and grow your fan base.  Facebook advertising is a far more effective method than delivering flyers to every house in every street as all your Facebook Page fans will be customers already, it will be targeted advertising, and again, all for free.  If you want to see a good example of social networking advertising check out Coca Cola's Facebook page, you will see they have 85,000,000 'Likes/Fans'.

In a recent study by Purple WiFi (a Social WiFi hotspot provider) found that 78% of respondents actually seek free WiFi when out in public places, however they also found that 66% of respondents where unsure of how to use a free WiFi hotspot.  Social WiFi aims to make it easier, customers just connect to your Hotspot, Like your Facebook Page and are online.    

Personally, I don't like using my social media account to login to websites and other services as I feel they will have access to more personal information than I am comfortable with.  I am, however, in a minority and most people, in the age of the Selfie, are more than happy to use their social media accounts and share personal information to get free WiFi access.

So as you can see adding a Social WiFi hotspot to your business will have multiple benefits, firstly it will attract customers seeking free WiFi into your place of business, secondly it will equip you with a powerful (and free) marketing tool (Facebook) and thirdly, it will help you to reach potential customers.

There are lots of companies who provide Social WiFi Hotspot software and equipment, usually with a basic free package and a monthly fee for more features.  I have not tested any of these yet but will do soon and post a review of the best ones.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How To Provide Free WiFi To Your Customers

If you own a restaurant, bar, cafe, club or any type of business where members of the public visit and you want to either keep them on your premises longer or attract new customers by offering free WiFi there are a few things you must take into consideration first.

Many businesses that already have an Internet connection simply give WiFi access to their customers by either leaving their WiFi connection 'open' by not putting a password on it or by giving out the password at the bar or writing it on a menu board.  Which ever of these options they choose, each comes with a number of problems.  

Firstly if this is the Internet connection they use for the day to day running of their business to process card payments, run POS systems etc. there is a real danger that by letting customers use it they will potentially have access to this information.  Secondly, unless they have changed the default login details to the WiFi router, anyone could login to their router and make changes since the default login details are usually just admin and password.  They might just want to prank them by changing the network name (SSID) to something stupid or obscene or worse, completely change all the settings, locking them out of the router, forcing them to do a factory reset.  And thirdly, by leaving the connection open or freely giving out the password means that not only their customer will be using it but customers in nearby cafes/bars and anyone within range of the WiFi signal will be too.

There are a number of security issues for their customers if they either leave the connection open or publicly display the password.  Hackers can use a number of free tools available on the Internet to 'sniff' traffic sent over a WiFi network.  Basically this means they will be able to see all the information, including usernames and passwords sent over the network, if a number of customers find that their accounts have been hacked due to using a business's free WiFi they probably won't come back or worse, will post negative reviews about their experience online, which as many businesses owners know, can destroy a business’s reputation.

The last problem, often overlooked, is that the company won't retain any customer contact details such as email address or Facebook name for future promotions.  You can read a post about 'Social WiFi' here.

Providing secure, free (or even paid for) WiFi to your customers doesn't require the purchase of expensive equipment or loads of technical knowledge.  There are a number of options available which I will discuss later.

Free vs. Paid  

Internet access via WiFi is now considered essential by many customers, especially in places like hotels/hostels and cafes.  A cafe which has WiFi will attract more customers than the one across the street which doesn't.

Choosing between free or paid for WiFi (or both) can have a real impact on your business.

If you choose to offer free, unlimited WiFi access in a cafe you will attract more customers but you always get a few people who will buy the cheapest item on the menu and sit there for hours, taking up seats which could be filled by those willing to spend more.  

On the flip side you will get customers who will stay longer because of the free Internet access and buy more food and drinks during their visit.

If you choose to only offer paid for WiFi you will stop attracting some customers BUT it will provide additional income to your business and you will attract a different demographic who are likely to be more affluent and will spend more.  
In a recent report, 1 in 7 people in the United Kingdom are now self employed, often their home being the only business premises which means they are likely to want somewhere else to work so they aren't stuck at home 24/7.  These type of people would prefer to go somewhere a little more peaceful and professional and would be prepared to pay for the privilege, they would also become repeat customers.  Selling weekly or monthly vouchers at a discount would encourage them to visit more often.  If your cafe is near a hotel which charges for WiFi (as many do) it is usually very expensive, you could just undercut them and attract their customers who would also buy food and drinks.

If you choose to offer both free and paid for access you can get the best of both worlds, I would suggest  offering 1 hour free access and charge for anything over, this will get rid of the seat hoggers but still attract the high spenders and passing trade.

Do I need a license or permit to offer or sell WiFi access? 

No.  You do not need any license, permit or permission to offer free or paid for WiFi. 

Do I need a special business Internet service provider?
To provide WiFi you must have an Internet connection, as you will be sharing it or even 'reselling' it through paid access, you will most likely need a business package.  They usually cost about the same as a domestic connection but allow resale and the customer support is usually a bit better.

What do I need to offer WiFi at my business?

You basically have three options.

1. Go with a company like Verizon or ATT in the USA or BTWiFi or The Cloud in the UK.  They will provide the equipment and handle all the technical stuff and you will benefit from their brand.  Often this option is free, if you have a BT (UK) router you should be able to just turn on BTWIFI (formally BT-Openzone) and earn some revenue from the sale of access but I wouldn't expect a huge number of sales.
You can sometimes earn some revenue from sales of WiFi access but it is probably best if you just want a hassle free option which gives your customers free WiFi access.

2. Use a WiFi provider company who specialize in the installation of WiFi systems, they will usually install these systems in hotels, schools, hospitals, campsites etc.  Again they will do all the technical stuff but you will have the opportunity to earn some revenue.  They all have different business models but often they work on either, a 50/50 revenue split or they will charge a monthly fee and let you keep 100% of the revenue.  If you only need to provide WiFi to one location they will probably charge you for some equipment, usually around $100.  If you have a large site or multiple site they might give you the equipment for free.

3. Use special WiFi hotspot software.  There is lots of free and paid for software available for creating WiFi hotspots, many with the option to charge for access.  Some of the systems have a monthly charge or take a cut of the revenue.  The setup can sometimes be a bit technical as you will need to install software on a router. 
Personally I am a huge fan of the Cloudtrax system which I have used to build a public WiFi network.  I have been using it for over a 18 months without any problems. The system/software is free and doesn't have any other fees but you will need to buy a Special WiFi Router, the OM2P, however it comes with all the software installed, you just plug it in and have your WiFi hotspot up and running in minutes.  The best value one is about $75 and will be more than suitable for a cafe or restaurant.
Cloudtrax Open-Mesh OM2P WiFi Router
The Cloudtrax system, used in conjunction with an Open-Mesh WiFi router like the OM2P lets you offer free or paid for access or both, it has easy to use templates to create professional looking landing pages and full Paypal integration to automate card payments if you want to charge for access.  You can also manually create access vouchers which can be sold at the counter or given out with purchases.  

The ONLY downside of the Cloudtrax system is that you don't capture the users email address/details or get a Facebook Like as discussed in this post about Social WiFi.

***Update November 2014***

Open-Mesh have released a few new products which support 'Facebook WiFi' and allow you to capture user demographics, details and advertising on Facebook for free.  Facebook WiFi is only available on newer models, such as the MR900.

If you use the non Facebook WiFi enabled devices you can still redirect the user to a page of your choice after they login (known as a 'walled garden') such as your company's website or Facebook page and encourage them to Like the page in return for a discount or something free.