Your Internet Service Provider (BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin, and many others), often called an ISP, provides your home, workplace or coffee shop with connectivity to the Internet. ISPs generally provide a router (the box that plugs into your telephone socket), that allows you to plug computers and other devices into to access the internet, and that router usually has integrated Wi-Fi capability.
Wi-Fi is the technology that allows your phone, tablet, computer and many other devices (some demonstrating technology isn’t always the answer) to connect to the ISP router, and gain access to the Internet.
In many cases, just like in our homes, smaller businesses use the built-in Wi-Fi capability provided by their Internet Service Provider, so when would you need to look any further than your ISP for a Wi-Fi service?
The first example is relatively straightforward – when you need improved reliability and a better user experience.
We have all experienced the need to switch our home Internet on and off when it goes a bit “funny”. Whilst inconvenient at home, having more reliable Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly critical for businesses (and will continue to do so as many modern devices have no option to connect with a cable).
The higher specification hardware used by enhanced Wi-Fi services can support more densely populated areas than the Wi-Fi capability in most ISP routers, allowing more users to connect and use the service and improving reliability. The availability of more detailed performance reporting for such hardware can also help identify and resolve the more complex problems like interference, weak coverage and intermittent issues.
Enhanced Wi-Fi services also provide the opportunity for businesses that operate across multiple sites to create a single company Wi-Fi network name (known as an SSID) so users can connect with the same credentials (username and password) from any office or location.
Such enhanced Wi-Fi services are more complex deployments, often outside the comfort zone for business owners to manage themselves, and are provided as Managed Services. Managed Services Providers will remotely monitor Wi-Fi services, with tools that check for and diagnose faults, and technicians who can remotely log in to Wi-Fi access points or routers to resolve issues that arise.
A second example is an extension to the first, when you want to use the Wi-Fi to develop relationships and enhance communications with customers and staff.
Wi-Fi can provide a very effective way to establish loyalty and deliver an enhanced brand experience for your customers. In a recent survey by PR Newswire in the US, 28% of retailers reported increased customer loyalty due to deploying in-store customer Wi-Fi, with an associated 2% increase in sales. The same survey found that deploying employee Wi-Fi also increased customer loyalty with an associated 3.4% increase in sales.
Enhanced Wi-Fi services allow you to provide visitors and guests with separate access to your Wi-Fi, without having to create and manage guest access passwords. Most have the functionality built-in to allow users to register the first time they use your Wi-Fi, using their email address, loyalty card or via a social media account like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, and thereafter connect automatically at any of your stores, sites or offices.
When connecting, guests (or for that matter internal users) can be presented with a page containing offers and promotions, special events, or practical Health and Safety information about the location they are visiting. This functionality can also present an opportunity for users to opt-in to receive updates, offers and event notifications through their preferred communication method.
Collecting an email address or social media connections gives staff at your location visibility of who their customers are, and a means to communicate with them. It can also give head office staff visibility of ALL customers collectively, great for group-wide competitions and promotions. Pubs are a great example, where enhanced Wi-Fi can provide landlords with visibility of who is in their pub and a means to communicate with them. For pub chains, customer information can be aggregated to allow for group-wide promotions and campaigns.
A third example, but potentially the most important given recent events, would be when you need to increase security.
Although they are getting more advanced, the chances are that the device provided by your Internet Service Provider doesn’t include more sophisticated security capabilities. Although it is easily overlooked, with the recent increase in ransomware and other forms of malware (see our ransomware blog) security is a necessary nuisance that we must heed to make sure we get the benefits we want from Wi-Fi.
One of the key security risks that is often overlooked is the risk posed intentionally or accidentally by staff. Enhanced Wi-Fi services allow you to go beyond a single network ID and password for all users, by providing the ability to use personal authentication (a different username and password for each user). This means you are not exposed if a user leaves your company, or a password is shared as you can block access to an individual without affecting all users.
Guest access can still be provided with a separate network name and password, which also helps to reduce the ability of guests to enter private areas or viruses to propagate to other devices on your network.
It becomes possible to ensure the same policy and updates are applied consistently across multiple access points and sites, and if you really want to maximise security you can go a step further and place devices into quarantine until they have met policy standards with appropriate and up to date anti-virus and system updates in place.