In today's business world, it's nearly impossible to be successful without being connected to the internet. For business owners, portable connectivity is essential to stay on top of to-dos. Additionally, many customers have come to expect Wi-Fi connectivity in cafes, lobbies and more. However, business owners may not be sure where to start when it comes to creating internet hotspots. To help, we've created a guide on how to choose and set up a hotspot for businesses.
What is a business internet hotspot?
A business internet hotspot is a router that allows a business to connect multiple devices to the web. These portable Wi-Fi devices offer a quick, secure connection wherever the hotspot is located – whether it's a home office, a brick-and-mortar store, a customer location, or even on the go. A hotspot can be especially useful for fully mobile businesses that don't have a traditional internet setup, such as food trucks, pop-up shops and construction sites. [Read related: Hot Spot vs. Satellite Internet]
A portable business internet hotspot is distinct from phone tethering, which is the process of sharing a mobile device's internet connection with another device. While phone tethering is a viable solution for connecting a single device, a business internet hotspot is necessary to connect multiple devices to the same network.
Many top internet service providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, offer business hotspot solutions. However, high-speed broadband is not available in all states or regions, so keep in mind which providers are available in your area when researching business internet hotspot solutions.
The benefits of internet hotspots for businesses
Internet hotspots offer various benefits for both customers and business owners. In comparison to phone tethering, a mobile business hotspot allows more devices to be connected at once – a necessity if you plan to offer Wi-Fi to your guests. It also offers a faster and stronger connection with higher data limits than a tethered phone connection.
Guests tend to enjoy using a secure, branded internet connection while patronizing a store. Depending on your type of business, they may even expect it. Free Wi-Fi not only improves the customer experience but may also lead them to spend more time on your premises (potentially buying more in that time). This is an especially important consideration with the rise of remote work, as it allows customers to work in public spaces such as restaurants and cafes.
For entrepreneurs, a business hotspot ensures that all work devices have a safe and reliable connection to the web for daily operations. You can monitor and manage your company's network in various ways, such as by filtering web content, pulling usage reports, and customizing your network name and login page. Many business hotspots also enable separate business and customer network access, which allows everyone to access the web without compromising security.
How do business hotspots work?
A business hotspot works similarly to a standard home or business Wi-Fi connection. The hotspot serves as an internet-enabled wireless access point, which communicates with devices using radio signals (the manner in which signals are transmitted is standardized). The access point is typically connected to a router or server that controls who can access the network.
Businesses can enjoy a variety of hotspot options that match their connectivity needs. While a 4G LTE connection is most common (with 3G for backup), an increasing number of devices now offer a 5G connection.
Two popular options are mobile hotspot routers and compact routers. A mobile hotspot router typically boasts higher connection speeds and longer battery life than compact routers. Conversely, compact routers are a more affordable choice that still offers strong connectivity and enough battery life to last through the workday.
Best practices for businesses setting up a hotspot
If you're planning to set up a business internet hotspot, keep these four best practices in mind to ensure a smooth and safe rollout.
1. Define the goals of the hotspot.
First and foremost, you must understand how your hotspot will be used. Consider how many people will be accessing the hotspot at one time, how long they will use it, and what kinds of activities they'll need to conduct. This will depend largely on your business's needs, your customer base and your type of business. For example, a quick email check while waiting in line will require less data than a video streaming session.
2. Choose the right equipment.
The right equipment is critical to ensure that both customers and employees can successfully connect to the hotspot. High-quality hardware and sufficient bandwidth will go a long way in the functionality of your business hotspot. If you plan to offer free Wi-Fi to your customers, it is also best to purchase a wireless router that can accommodate guest access.
"Make sure to use a business-class router and switch, as they will allow you to create both the public network for your customers, but also set it up as an independent network separate from your business-critical network," said Steve Panaghi, senior IT operations manager for Fracture. "This is very important, as you don't want to use the same Wi-Fi network for both guests and your business."
3. Secure the network.
Bjørn Ekeberg, head of brand at Recharge Health, said security is the top factor to consider when you set up Wi-Fi access for your guests. "If your business becomes the target of a data breach, the ramifications and costs of that can put you out of business."
At a minimum, it would be wise to set up a guest network and encrypt it with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2). For additional security, you can turn off the "SSID" broadcast on the private network, which hides it from visitors' lists of available networks.
"When getting your guest hotspot set up through a service provider, consider asking the installer to block specific ports on the guest network to prevent things like torrenting," Ekeberg said. "Torrenting can bring your hotspot to a crawl in speed, and certain ports can open you up to security exploits."
Setting a connection timeout can also limit the impact of any unauthorized connections. "This helps to prevent any [hidden] devices from snooping on the network for longer than the timeout," Panaghi said.
4. Make the network readily accessible to customers.
Once you've set up your business hotspot, you'll need to advertise this to your customers by providing them with the network name and password. Ekeberg suggests clearly posting the name of your network with hotspot availability in various spots throughout your establishment. This not only encourages guests to utilize the network, but prevents them from inadvertently logging in to another network with a similar name.
While your network name should be open knowledge, the associated password should not be. Consider providing the Wi-Fi password only to customers who make a purchase, as this will increase the security and keep non-customers from bogging down your internet speeds. One easy way to do this is to include your Wi-Fi password at the bottom of receipts or any other printouts the customer may receive. Another best practice is to change your guest business hotspot password regularly, especially if you are not going through an internet service provider.