Guest Wi-Fi access should always be ‘easy, peasy’
My kids use the expression “easy, peasy” to describe something that is super simple. For example, I might ask my youngest child, “How was your math test?” And because high school math is beyond simple, he would respond, “Easy, peasy.” In life, there are things that should be easy, but we often overcomplicate them.
One thing that should be easy every time is signing on to guest Wi-Fi. The fact that it isn’t, makes it one of my biggest pet peeves.
Before I get into the why, I’ll take a step back and define guest Wi-Fi. Webopedia describes it as “a wireless router feature that is designed to allow users to easily grant visitor access to your wireless Internet connection.” Not to nitpick, but it’s more a Wi-Fi feature than a router feature, but most readers of this will get that. Also, note the word EASY in the definition, so all you Wi-Fi administrators out there, take note.
In my job as an analyst, I visit lots of companies and have seen the full gamut of ways to offer guest access. Some companies just have open access on a network and a Wi-Fi SSID that is obvious to find (like GUEST NETWORK). Other companies have a secured network and have placards all over the place with an easy-to-remember password printed on it.
Those are obviously examples of ones that are super easy. More complicated systems require a third party, such as an office admin having to get involved and provision a username and password for a defined period of time with the credentials being emailed to the person.
The challenge with this last example is that if the cellular service is poor in the building, it may be difficult to access the email on a mobile phone. Also, if the password is something cryptic like “K75w!jh*4p” that can be hard to get right when reading off of the phone to be typed into the laptop.
Another complicated approach is to offer self-provisioned access, but it asks for so much information the user often opts out. If it’s too complicated, people won’t use it.
Are you using the best Wi-Fi provider
I certainly understand the desire and need to be secure, but let’s understand the goal of guest access. It’s to provide external people a way of accessing internet services from your WLAN. What’s the point of making the onboarding process difficult? If you’re locking down guest Wi-Fi because you’re concerned that people connected to it can hack onto the corporate wireless network, you should question whether you’re using the right Wi-Fi vendor. The products are built in a way that the guest network is isolated from the other SSIDs, and if they can’t do that, switch providers.
Also, in many verticals you WANT the guests on your network so you can monitor their activity to help make better decisions. For example, a retailer may want to know if shoppers are checking prices on Amazon or a nearby competitor while in store. A sports stadium will want to know what social media apps fans use when at the game. A city may want to measure the density of mobile devices at bus stops and train stations for safety purposes.
All of those are much easier to do if the guest is connected to your network instead of using the cellular network. In the digital era, data leads to insights, and you can’t have the data unless people use your network.
Tips for setting up guest Wi-Fi
So, here are a few tips to follow when considering how to set up guest Wi-Fi.
Always require some kind of log in so you can associate traffic and usage with users. This can be as simple as asking for an email address.
Allow guests to log in using social credentials such as Twitter or Facebook, if possible. This creates an easy process for the user and lets the network owner mine the data to fine-tune marketing initiatives.
If social credentials are not involved, never use a third-party human who needs to provision a username and password. This creates unnecessary delay and is a waste of the administrator’s time. Instead, give guests a simple self-service portal to create their own user name and password.
If the company uses some kind of computer-based sign-in tool at the front desk, have that system generate a username and password that can be printed and handed to the person with the name badge.
Make guest access part of the evaluation criteria for your Wi-Fi purchase. This is an important component of a Wi-Fi purchase, and it’s often overlooked. Evaluate the Wi-Fi vendor on how easy it is to set up guest SSIDs and what the onboarding experience is.
Guest Wi-Fi is a critical component of the digital experience for many companies. There is absolutely no reason this should be a complicated process that frustrates users. The data that is captured can be invaluable, so make the onboarding process simple.