Free Wifi
July 6, 2009 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I am responsible for managing a small coffeehouse. We are currently offering free wifi to our customers. We are looking for an option to restrict our internet access. There are two possible options we are considering: 1. Have a redirected landing page for a customer first logging onto our network. This would allow us to capture their e-mail address, have them agree to an AUP, etc. 2. Install a more elaborate software system to give our customers custom access codes, etc. Our wireless router is a Linksys WRT160N. Thank you.
posted by 4chrisd to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Turn on WPA2 encryption -- your customers will appreciate the protection from sidejacking -- and have a small sign, visible from the cash register, that tells your customers what that week's WPA2 password is. (Or, set up your cash register to print the password on receipts). This is not a perfect system, but it is easy, and offers some real security.
posted by profwhat at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2009

It depends on what you are trying to achieve. What would you do with the email addresses you collect? Do you want to make sure that only paying customers can use your network? How much time and effort do you care to spend on developing and maintaining the system?

Speaking as someone who has used wireless in many a coffeehouse, I have always felt that a custom-access-code system provided the best balance between ease of use for the customer and control over the wireless for the coffeehouse. Providing some number of hours of Internet access free with purchase keeps the customer from having to make two transactions (one to buy coffee and one to buy Internet) while still reducing the problem of freeloaders. However, it is certainly more complex than a simple landing page or network password.
posted by fermion at 9:48 AM on July 6, 2009

If you're going to offer free wi-fi, offer free wi-fi. A WPA2 password is common an well accepted.

Don't try to capture email addresses or put up other road blocks.

The reasoning is simple: if you create too many hoops to jump through, your customers will just go elsewhere. Trust me, I've been a coffee house camper for many years now and have seen first hand cafes deeply damage their business by instituting hairebrained internet schemes.

Remember, all though you work there everyday, you don't' know what it's like for the people on the other side of the register. TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! Ask them what they are looking for, what they are willing to put up with, explain your concerns.
posted by wfrgms at 9:50 AM on July 6, 2009

It looks like NoCat's captive portal functionality was integrated into products such as the Linksys WRT54G running OpenWrt.
posted by harmfulray at 9:52 AM on July 6, 2009

My favorite free-wifi cafe in Oakland has the password written on a chalkboard on the wall. It's painless and easy and I don't think they'd get as many happy customers if they required a more intensive and invasive sign in. If you want to gather e-mail addresses or connect with your customers on facebook or twitter, have a clipboard and pen next to the register. Ask people to add their contact info to the mailing list or whatever when they order.
posted by JenMarie at 9:56 AM on July 6, 2009

The community wifi group Ile Sans Fils develops the captured portal program WifiDog which also runs over OpenWrt.
posted by gmarceau at 10:04 AM on July 6, 2009

Just curious, but what is the reason for wanting to limit access?
posted by orme at 10:04 AM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: The system I am thinking of is similar to Panera Bread...very simple painless one page. No major hoops to jump through.
posted by 4chrisd at 10:06 AM on July 6, 2009

Not exactly what you are looking for but you could setup a pfSense router, it does captive portal and so much more very easily.
posted by DJWeezy at 10:14 AM on July 6, 2009

My favorite local coffee shop has the password (their telephone number) written on a box where you can deposit a donation if you choose.

One coffee shop I visited in Georgia had the idea to change the password once or twice a week with a special - the password one day was "itshottryanicedmocha" and another time it was "ourpastriesarethebestyoushouldgetone" or something similar.
posted by sephira at 10:20 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you explain why you want to limit access, you'll get more helpful suggestions.

Many coffeehouses do use some sort of single-use system with an access code printed on the receipt. I've also been in hotels that work that way. But I have not noticed what software they are using to achieve this.

I'd never give an e-mail address, at least, not a real one. And how will you verify it anyway without giving internet access?
posted by rokusan at 10:20 AM on July 6, 2009

The easiest way is install dd-wrt firmware for that router. Then you go into the services menu and add nocat splash to it.

I am a network tech at a library and this is how we are running our wireless.

Trust me with help on the forums you can do it yourself.

Like i stated we are using dd-wrt with the nocat splash option enabled and it works wonders.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:15 PM on July 6, 2009

These guys had a neat idea.
posted by chazlarson at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2009

Just a quick note that you should not treat the encrypted (and please do encrypt it - it protects your customers) wireless (whatever solution you go with) should not be treated as a "trusted" network zone and should not be part of your business infrastructure. No "company" PCs should use it for their daily driver internet connection.
posted by mysterious1der at 1:43 PM on July 6, 2009

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