Be My Guest: How Guest Wi-Fi Services Benefit Small Businesses As Well As Customers


While ordering a coffee or taking a break while shopping, many of us sign into the free Wi-Fi. In doing so, we’re providing one of the biggest opportunities for small businesses to grow.

Free guest Wi-Fi is often treated like just another courtesy for customers, along with free coffee refills or complementary mints by the register. However, as Wi-Fi marketing and monetisation expert Steve Lim writes, “retailers need to focus on Wi-Fi as an overall business strategy to not only improve brand loyalty and enhance the customer experience, but most importantly to chart a course … based on the data and intelligence”.

Beyond convenience for customers, the benefits of free guest Wi-Fi can far outweigh the costs – and can even open up a whole new revenue stream.

Know your customers

It’s not uncommon for businesses to offer free Wi-Fi by simply chalking the password to their business network on the board or handing it out to customers when they ask. However, this can be a massive missed opportunity (as well as a security risk, which we’ll come to later).

Instead, there are specific services available – such as Telstra’s Air Merchant – that provide a more professional Wi-Fi experience for customers while also making it easier for a business to capture useful data and learn more about their customers.

If you’ve ever connected to the Wi-Fi network in a hotel, you would have encountered a branded login page, preventing access to the internet unless you enter the appropriate access code or sign up to an account. A customer Wi-Fi service can work in a similar way, presenting the customer with a branded page containing one or more options for how to get internet access.

For example, one convenient and popular way for customers to log into a new website or service is to login with Facebook. This is not only quick and easy for many people but can also provide your business with aggregated publically accessible demographic information – so that you can gradually build up a picture of who your customers are.

Alternatively, you could exchange access for completion of a simple survey, giving you valuable feedback on your products and services.

This login page also gives you the chance to share personalised offers, invite newsletter sign ups or promote your social media channels (and some systems will integrate seamlessly with email marketing list providers like MailChimp).

Social Media Strategist Beverly Theresa says analytics make it easy to group customers into custom audiences like ‘luxury’, ‘family’, etc. “It helps build highly targeted campaigns,” she says, “and from a commercial real estate perspective, that information also comes in handy when trying to attract the right tenant mix.”

Co-working spaces

Cafes, restaurants and pubs routinely have always struggled with the ebb and flow of clientele. Certain times of the day are always guaranteed to be busy, but there can also be long stretches in between with very little demand. However, some businesses are beginning to use their free tables, coffee menu and reliable Wi-Fi to attract a different clientele during their quieter periods – creating a secondary revenue stream at the same time by becoming a co-working space.

In the US, partners with restaurants and cafes to sell co-working memberships to professionals looking for places to meet and work in surroundings less formal (and expensive) than an office and similar schemes are popping up in major cities around the world.

This sort of service is very attractive for freelancers and work-from-home professionals in particular who may need to conduct regular client meetings, or just require the change of scenery to stay connected to the outside world. (When your only work companion for days at a time is the dog, the opportunity to get out of the house and still work productively can be a sanity saver.)

Whether you partner with a membership service like Spacious or manage your own co-working space, a reliable and professional Wi-Fi service is essential.

Stay safe

Of course, you not only have to protect customers’ privacy but ensure your own security too, and that means separating your own network from guest Wi-Fi. You don’t want your commercial or critical internet access exposed to whatever careless online behaviour your customers indulge in.

A Wi-Fi service like Telstra’s Air Merchant also allows you to control customer access limits so you’re protected from someone trying to download the complete Game of Thrones over lunch. However, you still need to allocate (or provision) plenty of bandwidth to cope with multiple customers using the internet simultaneously. Being known as ‘that place with the rubbish Wi-Fi’ will undermine your whole guest Wi-Fi marketing plan.

Some tools offer dynamic bandwidth management, as CEO of commercial provider Mushroom Networks Jay Akin says. “Ideally your gateway also supports dynamic bandwidth allocation so the two networks can share bandwidth resources even while they’re separated,” he says. “Usually you can recover the cost of the investment within a few months, which makes it a must have.”