Billing is one of the more difficult aspects of managing a hotspot. Many different models are in use for billing customers. You can choose to:
- Bill for each time or day that a user connects, thus avoiding having to monitor usage or collect user information.
- Charge a monthly or annual fee for an account, in which case you must create accounts.
- Bill on an hourly basis whether they are connected or not.
- Bill for actual usage time like cell phone companies do.
Most time usage management solutions use the login and logout times of users based on the logging capability of their wireless router/AP. When someone connects or logs into a connection, the MAC address is recorded in the log.
Simple devices have difficulties measuring whether a user has logged off or has just been disconnected, and may not be able to check a connection using PING when a VPN session is launched or a specific firewall is in use.
One of the advantages of using a more sophisticated solution like the Cisco Broadband Service Manager and the Nomadix HotSpot Gateway is that they have the capability to deal with VPNs and firewalls, as well as the added security features that they offer.
One company that sells a hotspot billing software solution is Alepo. Its RBS Hotspot software lets you monitor multiple sites and sign up subscribers to your network. You can sell one-time connections, prepaid connections, pay commissions to clients, and allow for roaming accounts.
This software would be valuable for a larger business, or for someone selling hotspot services and probably falls outside of the category of small business use. Another solution is LogiSense’s engageIP Billing and DSS module, which is really also meant for a service provider.
Given the complexity of setting up an accounting solution (and the costs involved), it is probably better for small businesses to leverage this kind of software installed by their service provider rather than trying to duplicate that capability.