How to set up a wireless hotspot for your business: give customers free or paid for internet access

Public Wi-Fi is something people are coming to expect. Cafés and restaurants offer wireless internet access for customers; offices provide a connection for visitors, so that guests can check their email while they’re on-site.

If you manage IT for any business, it’s worth considering running your own hotspot – either as a commercial venture, which people pay to use, or as a complimentary service to visitors. Even within your own home, hosting a hotspot can be a useful service for neighbours and guests. There are, however, numerous technical and legal issues to consider.

How to set up a wireless hotspot for your business

Set up a wireless hotspot for your business: don’t use an open network

The simplest way to share an internet connection with the world at large is to make your existing wireless network unsecured, so that any device within range can connect. There’s a certain seductive simplicity to this approach – but it carries risks. Anyone who connects will be able to access not only your internet connection, but other networked resources such as shared drives.

This means you’re effectively throwing your privacy out of the window, so it isn’t something we’d recommend for individuals, much less for businesses. Even if you don’t have shared resources, allowing anonymous outsiders to connect to your primary network gives them a perfect opportunity to try out exploits and compromises. Remember, too, that Wi-Fi passes through walls, so even if you allow only trusted visitors onto your premises, you could be hacked by someone standing outside on the pavement. Since all network traffic on an open wireless network is unencrypted, it’s even possible for your online activity to be intercepted and spied on in real time. If you’re a business that holds confidential information, you could be sued for failing to protect your customers’ data.

In all cases, it’s a good idea to minimise your chances of falling foul by using a firewall and filtering software (or hardware) to block common methods of copyright infringement, as well as potentially obscene content. Even once you’ve taken this precaution, though, running an open network isn’t something we can recommend.

Set up a wireless hotspot for your business: guest network

A safer way to share your connection is by creating a guest network – that is, setting up a new wireless network, separate from your main LAN, which allows visitors to access your internet connection but nothing else. This is an approach typically used by large organisations, but it’s also supported by many routers that are designed for home or small-business use (sometimes implemented by allowing you to specify a secondary SSID, in addition to your main wireless address).

So long as the resources on your primary network are properly protected and isolated, this approach gives would-be attackers very little scope to harm your business or compromise your privacy. Use WPA2 encryption on your guest network and opportunists won’t even be able to connect in the first place – although this does introduce an administrative overhead, since you’ll need a way of communicating the passphrase to legitimate visitors. If you plan to take this route, consider investing in a router that allows you to manage access remotely: some recent models we’ve seen come with control apps for Android and iOS that let you grant guest access from a smartphone or tablet.

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