Providing Guest WiFi At Your Premises

Knowledge Sharing by Ewa Rozkosz

So you need to provide guest WiFi at your premises and don’t where to start? Then you’re in the right place! I can’t give you chapter and verse, but there are the things that you’ll need to consider:

The Legalise

Your organisation is legally liable for the traffic that originates from your WiFi network – the good and the bad. To protect yourself from the bad you’ll need to have your users sign an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). The AUP is your organisation’s way of absolving itself from any blame for bad traffic that users of your premises may generate and the easiest way to get them to sign it is to include it in the terms of the contract you have with them.

There are many use policy templates around the internet for you to copy (like here) but I’m no lawyer so I can’t tell you how watertight they are. If you’ve got one in place you’ve at least shown willing and in any legal proceeding that will probably go a long way to protecting your organisation.

If you charge for WiFi access you’re obliged to provide it, while if it’s complimentary a best endeavours approach will be acceptable (in other words, if it’s down you can get away with it for longer).

The Money

This will cost you to provide, it doesn’t come free. There will an initial set-up cost for the provision of your line and the purchase of any necessary network equipment (and additional installation) and then a monthly running cost. Research the packages available to you, and decide how much you’re willing to pay and which extras you want enough to pay extra for (we give some suggestions of what to keep in mind further down the post).

The concept to keep in mind is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This is a standard business idea along the lines of ‘buying cheap three times costs more than buying expensive once, so lower cost is rarely better value’.

The Internet

The first step is to provide the connection from your premises to the internet. A large part of the pricing is how much data you can consume at a time – a lot of users simultaneously downloading videos will use more bandwidth than a few users browsing text, so the number of users and what they use your network for will dictate how much data you need.

The numbers to look for here are Kilobits per second (Kb/s), or Megabits per second (Mb/s), depending on how fast the available services are.

Then there is the amount of data you can download over a given time frame, usually expressed as Gigabytes per month. If you hit this limit within that time frame you either have to pay a top up charge or wait until the next charging period – neither of these are good. If you can afford to go for an unlimited plan from the get go then you avoid this hassle, so it’s generally worth a few pounds a month extra.

Next is the Service Level Agreement (SLA). This details (amongst other things) how quickly you’ll have your service back when it fails on the provider’s end, domestic connections generally having a longer time to repair than a business connection.

If your users view having internet access as being critical, you may want to go for a business rated connection. While these cost more, they also tend to have better service agreements and will get back online faster.

The WiFi

The last step is to provision the wireless network within your premises. If it’s a small area then the router that supplies your internet bandwidth may already do this and you’re all set – lucky you!

For a larger building or one with thick brick, concrete or stone walls it’s a bit more complicated. You’ll need Access Points (APs) for the users’ devices to connect to, perhaps one per room, and these will need to connect back to the internet router, usually via cables which you’ll need to have installed.

In this instance your best bet is to go to a professional outfit. It’ll likely be the most expensive part of the installation, but is a one off cost and is worth doing properly to give as long and trouble free a service life as possible. Badly installed equipment costs more to keep working over its service life than properly installed equipment, so once again, cheaper isn’t always better.

For your users to access the WiFi you’ll need to give them two details, namely the SSID and password. The SSID is the network name which will show up on the device menu when your users go to connect. You’ll want something clear, like ‘(Meeting Name) WiFi’, so they know they’re connecting to you and not someone else by mistake.

The WiFi password should be:

  • Secure. You want a phrase of at least four words, preferably random – see this post for more in-depth advice on choosing a password.
  • Changed regularly – at least monthly. Once your password leaks beyond your user base (and it will) your neighbours WILL steal your bandwidth – I’ve watched it happen. The only way to stop this is to change it often enough that they can’t keep up.
  • Distributed to your users. Ensure that you have a consistent means of informing your users what the current password is. You can do this on site, such as on a notice board (try to make sure it’s somewhere only users will see, such as the kitchen), or distribute it via a mailing list or newletter, either paper or digital.
  • Encrypted with WPA2 encryption to prevent it from being cracked; WEP and WPA are very weak and won’t offer you much protection.

The Maintenance

Provision of internet is seen more and more as an essential rather than optional feature, so it’s worth having systems in place to deal with any issues as quickly as possible. You don’t want your users to frequently struggle with the network being down – if coffee houses lose custom over it, so can you.

All the components listed above are complicated beasts and when they go wrong (note that’s when, not if) you’ll need access to someone who knows what they’re doing to get it working again.

If you engaged a company to install the network in the first place they may well offer this service, and would have the advantage of knowing your network already so they won’t have to figure it out in the middle of a fault. Otherwise, you may have to engage a seperate professional.

Either way, have things arranged ahead of time to minimise the delay between the issue being reported and resolved. You don’t want to have to be scrabbling around comparing quotes and reviews while you have an actual issue on your hands.

Consider the service level agreements here as well; shorter repair times may be worth paying extra for if you know that your users will be relying heavily on your network and it not being available for a week would cause problems.

Don’t sign up for terms longer than a year unless you’re very comfortable with the company or they offer a large discount. If they know you’ve got four years left before you can exit a contract you may not get as good a quality of service as you would with only six months left, for example.

Like all other technologies, wireless networking is continuously improving, so you can expect the access points to have a maximum service life of 3-5 years. Domestic grade access points will be cheaper to buy but not last anywhere near as long, and require more labour to manage, so will have a higher total cost.

Properly installed cabling, on the other hand, will have a life of at least 15-20 years and need very little maintenance.

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