First and foremost, make sure your hotspot is easy to use. As much as possible you want to avoid having to help your customers connect up. However, be prepared to offer assistance when someone has difficulty connecting—another good reason to keep things simple.
You might want to consider printing up a connection guide. Not all of your users are going to have a laptop or mobile device to make the connection they need when they show up at your business. Therefore you may want to consider adding a workstation or terminal for those types of users.
Hotspot management software is an easily overlooked feature that is incredibly valuable. It’s a significant differentiator between the different commercial providers and the Internet in a box packages.
Good software can make security, billing, and other issues easy; bad software forces you to rely on log entries and other crude methods for analysis. It’s important to manage your hotspot for a number of reasons.
Even if you don’t intend to charge for its use you need to monitor what your users are doing. Any single user can bring your hotspot to its knees by saturating your bandwidth. It’s not unheard of for a spammer to sit down with a cup of coffee and pump out thousands of e-mails.
You also don’t want users going to sites that will embarrass your other customers or perform illegal activities. Even if you roll your own site, you should install and use a hotspot management package. There aren’t a lot of choices at the moment in this category, but that will change with time.
One product you can consider is called FirstSpot from a company called PatronSoft. FirstSpot is a Web-based login that supports your hotspot configuration, security, auditing, and management. Some of this software’s more desirable features include:
- Logon management, customization, and support for third-party password encryption routines.
- Time accounting for both pre- and post-paid account activity.
- Usage logs and reports, including connected MAC and IP addresses, time and duration of a connection, and other things.
- Bandwidth throttling that lets you set the amount of bandwidth a user account or your site can use.
FirstSpot requires a dual-homed (has two NICs) Windows XP, 2003, or 2000 server. You can dump your data out to standard SQL databases, or to any ODBC database. You can also deploy this software behind a NAT, PPPoE, or any static IP- or DHCP-assigned IP address network connection.
PatronSoft offers a free trial for its software. If you are using management software from a hotspot provider, you should also be managing security and user accounts in your software as well.
Any hotspot really needs to be promoted in order to be successful. When people walk in the door they should see a sign that tells them that you have a hotspot and what kind of hotspot it is.
You should also tell your customers how to connect to your hotspot and offer them a free trial. Mention your hotspot in ads for your business. You’ll want to get your hotspot listed in the hotspot directories. If your service provider doesn’t do this for you, you should go to the following hotspot directories and do it for yourself:
- JiWire.com (submit to firstname.lastname@example.org). Intel’s hotspot list can be found at intel.jiwire.com.
- Google Wi-Fi Locator.
- Wi-Fi HotSpotList.com.
- HotSpots-Free Directory.
- WiFinder Hotspot Locator.
- WiFi Alliance WiFi Zone Directory.
Some people recommend that you create a home page for your business that appears whenever someone successfully connects to your hotspot. That home page could be configured so that it is the starting point of an account-generation process.
By having people create an account you can find out who your customers are for marketing purposes and track their usage. When they log in and out of their account you can track their usage and use that information to bill for the connection service.
Another good reason to create an initial Web page is that you can use that Web page to state the conditions of usage for your hotspot. If you have time limitations or restrict certain activities or visits to a certain type of Web site, you can use this page to state those terms.
At the very least it’s a good idea to remind your users that they are on an unsecured network connection, that they connect at their risk, and that their communications are not secure.
You can also suggest what they need to do to protect their systems from outside examination. Lessnetworks.com, mentioned earlier, provides a solution that allows free hotspots to create just such a Web page.