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.
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. PaidInternet 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|
***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.