Technology Tip
Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Offering Wi-Fi to Customers

Offering Wi-Fi to Customers

For many small businesses, offering free Wi-Fi can be a good way to attract customers, or to promote loyalty. It’s important to insure, however, that prudent security measures are in place to reduce the potential security risks.

Free Wi-Fi connections are being offered by a greater variety of businesses than the coffee shops and cafes that first made them popular. Now almost any type of business that prompts people to wait - including auto repair shops, doctors’ offices and more - offers Wi-Fi to patrons and guests.

Providing free Wi-Fi is a convenience that customers appreciate and, in more and more instances, are coming to expect. With more people working outside traditional workplaces, or spending time on the road, jumping into an establishment to get online quickly is a common experience for them.

For businesses that offer free Wi-Fi, doing so can provide a variety of benefits. For starters, offering Wi-Fi demonstrates you understand your customers' time is valuable. Offering the convenience of free Wi-Fi also shows appreciation for their patronage.

Offering Wi-Fi can also inspire people to spend more time in your business, and potentially spend more money with you. This is unlikely to make a huge difference in your bottom line, but the residual benefits can be attractive. You may wind up with some freeloading squatters who show up only to use the Wi-Fi, but most businesses say this isn't enough of a problem to cancel the benefits of offering Wi-Fi to customers.

A Good Experience

If you plan to offer (or are offering) free Wi-Fi, you'll want to be sure your bandwidth is robust enough to handle traffic from multiple users. If a couple of customers are watching videos, they could wind up degrading everyone's connection.

You may have to upgrade your connection speed and router to accommodate multiple users, but doing so will provide a better experience for everyone and increase overall customer satisfaction.

Protecting Your Business

It's also important to understand the security implications of offering free Wi-Fi and to take the appropriate precautions. Some security pros advocate requiring the use of passwords to access a Wi-Fi-network, but because that often provides a hassle for customers and team members to deal with, most businesses offering free Wi-Fi skip that step and instead rely on security software to protect their networks.

Because hackers can take advantage of unsecured Wi-Fi connections to launch attacks on other companies, it's a really good idea to separate your Wi-Fi traffic from your business’s corporate network. This will also prevent customers from accessing your internal resources, and can be accomplished either through a separate connection or by segregating your connection into guest and company networks.

Similarly, you should make sure firewalls and other security software is kept up-to-date on your network and company-owned computers.

It is also a good idea to consider filtering software, which prevents users from accessing inappropriate content over your connection. In addition to material that customers wouldn’t want to see on another patron's screen, free Wi-Fi could be used to download pirated movies, music or software. This can trigger a warning from your Internet provider and, if not stopped, could ultimately result in your connection being slowed or canceled by your provider.

Despite the need for all these precautions, the benefits of offering free Wi-Fi to your customers are likely to far outweigh any drawbacks or potential problems.

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