Can you help set up our wifi?
February 8, 2006 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Wi-fi for small businesses 101. What is the best solution for providing our cafe customers wi-fi?

We run a small independent coffee shop / bar in the Uk and we'd like it to become a wi-fi hotspot. Should we simply buy a router and charge a nominal fee for the password or go down the In-A-Box provider route eg the cloud and land our customers with a five pounds an hour fee. Or is there an in-between option? It would be nice for our homepage or similar to come up when they log in with a message and todays menu etc on it and we're also not interested in making money from it, just covering the expenses etc. Advice?
posted by brautigan to Computers & Internet (24 answers total)
Best answer: In Seattle, most coffee shops seem to think that trying to recover the relatively small investment in hardware and services to offer WiFi isn't worth the hassle involved and just make it freely available. A few go so far as to use a captive portal page, which captues web page requests from people when the first start using it and make them agree to their terms of use. This page generally has some advertisements on it for area businesses.
posted by Good Brain at 1:35 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: Give it away free and use it as a sweetener to attract customers.

Even a nominal fee is going to scare away >90% of your potential users. Speaking for myself, I'd happily buy a coffee I wouldn't otherwise in order to use your free wi-fi, but I wouldn't give you anything just to use wi-fi, unless I was desperate.
posted by cillit bang at 1:38 PM on February 8, 2006

Your expenses will be about 40 bucks a month, after the 100 dollars you spend on a router. a MINIMAL investment to get people to hang out in your establishment. give it away.
posted by glenwood at 1:47 PM on February 8, 2006

If you were planning on getting a fast connection anyhow, the marginal cost of setting up an open wifi node will be, what, UKP50?

Don't charge for it. You'll recoup your investment many times over in the customers who hang out at your place and spend more money, in the goodwill you'll generate, etc.

ISTR reading on boingboing about a study that compared free and metered wifi in coffee shops; the break-even point for metered wifi was 6x that of free. In other words, you need to sell a lot of wifi service to make it worth selling at all.

I don't know what things are like in the UK, but charging for wifi here would be met with as much incredulity as charging for sugar in your coffee.
posted by adamrice at 1:51 PM on February 8, 2006

Response by poster: Ok, in the Uk, at least in my city, nowhere really has wi-fi and those that do tend to do it with corporate partners eg starbucks / T-mobile and charge up to £5 per hour. Any technical advice wouldn't go amiss regarding set up, security etc.
posted by brautigan at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: Ask yourself this simple question: how much time do you want to spend supporting this? If the answer is less than a half-dozen hours a week you need to just give it away.

There's a lot of analysis that can be done on the issues of billing overhead, support time, collections, etc etc but in a nutshell if you are asking people to pay for something they'll expect a level of service for it.

At the full limit of complicated solutions that I'd suggest - you could have a captive portal (google for software/bios solutions) that requires a keyword you have on your receipts, or that you tell people who ask, which you change weekly. That'll weed out the leeches from neighboring buildings/businesses but be little additional issue.
posted by phearlez at 2:02 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: Once you've got your service set up so that you can connect one computer to it directly, you unplug that computer and plug in a "wireless router" (it's a router you want, not a bridge or something else). Get an 802.11g. Don't get a "pre-N," don't get anything with any proprietary wifi extensions, since most customers will not be able to take advantage of it.

You should also have a computer with a wifi card in it

Once you've got the router plugged in, you will activate your computer's wifi card and navigate to a special web address (probably This will take you to a mini webserver running inside the router; it will walk you through some configurations and setup. You'll need to fill in some information that your broadband provider gave you (essentially replicating the setup in your computer's wired connection). There are a few other options you can set, including encryption (probably want that off), etc. It's not completely foolproof, and there are some confusing acronyms, but it shouldn't take you more than an hour to get things up and running.
posted by adamrice at 2:09 PM on February 8, 2006

if you do this, make sure people can't access your router's configuration page, like you can in the coffee shop on my street... not so cool to allow people to force the modem to disconnect.
posted by GuyZero at 2:09 PM on February 8, 2006

If no one else is giving away WiFi then plan on being prepared to handle the short term competive advantage it will likely give you over the next 12 months or so. In that time, you could grow your base of loyal customers considerably provided your product and service are good or exceptional.
posted by Good Brain at 2:16 PM on February 8, 2006

Guyzero is right - too many people leave it set to Username: Admin and Password: Password
posted by A189Nut at 2:18 PM on February 8, 2006

what about the non-paying customers, though? that's always the issue with free wi-fi. they're taking up space, just hanging out and surfin' ye olde yet! you could have a daily password printed onto receipts, and sure people could rifle through the trash etc etc but at least it's a little deterrent and reminder to the person who would be stealing your wifi that you do have a business to run.
posted by soma lkzx at 2:32 PM on February 8, 2006

A189Nut, heck, I didn't even try the router password.

The ASDL modem the coffee shop has is IP-based itself... I was trying to diagnose a network problem (which was unrelated to the local wireless network in the end) so I did a tracert. was the router but there was a (then an endless series of * * *), which when I browsed it was the modem's control page without any access control at all... and the "Disconnect" button was on the very first page.

But yeah, change the default password on the router too.
posted by GuyZero at 2:48 PM on February 8, 2006

Soma's receipts idea is clever. Little bit of control without pissing people off.
posted by dong_resin at 2:49 PM on February 8, 2006

soma lkzx: I don't know about the OP, but I think my solution would be to throw out non-paying customers. Just like cafes do anyway.
posted by Netzapper at 2:56 PM on February 8, 2006

Just buy a Linksys WRT54G/GS... add DD-WRT and you have 100% of the equipment you need (sort maybe an external omni antenna)..
posted by cowmix at 3:10 PM on February 8, 2006

There exist free linux distributions to do this, if you have access to the expertise. I believe there are commercial solutions too (including the receipt printout) like this or this . Thought Linksys/Cisco had one but I can't find it, maybe I'm wrong.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2006

Actually, I believe someone on Boingboing did a little survey and found that the cost of charging for access was actually significantly higher than the cost of simply giving it away, and it's not nearly enough of a revenue source to make the former worthwhile. So I'd go with everyone else here and suggest giving it away.
posted by luriete at 3:20 PM on February 8, 2006

Response by poster: Ok, seems like free is the way to go. Anything we should be looking out for in terms of security, misuse of our internet account etc etc? Also how easy is the captive portal to setup? Thanks everyone so far.
posted by brautigan at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2006

That password reciept idea rocks. Good call.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:59 PM on February 8, 2006

Best answer: A couple of other considerations: i) You're probably not allowed to do this - your contract with your ISP is likely to contain a clause which precludes you from using your connection to set up a hotspot and ii) Consider your liabilities if someone uses your connection to download illegal porn and it's traced back to your account.

Don't want to be a killjoy - I love a free hotspot as much as the next guy - but you ought to at least consider these issues.
posted by blag at 5:47 PM on February 8, 2006

Security-wise, you should set things up so that there is absolutely no-way for any of the WiFi enabled computers to talk to any of your business computers. It's a little late for me to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to accomplish that though.
posted by Good Brain at 11:48 PM on February 8, 2006

I'm in the UK and would love the chance to drink good tea/coffee at an independent coffee shop, happily paying slightly inflated prices for the chance to surf the internet for free.

My only local resource is a Coffee Republic that charges highly inflated prices for food and drink *and* £1.50 per 30 minutes of internet access - which as far as I remember used a sort of portal affair that forced the browser window to use only 50% of the 17" monitor, IE so text resizing was not possible, had an "adult content filter" which barred my own website (I think "bum" is about the rudest word ever posted) and I gave up in despair after about 20 minutes.

Oh and don't forget to post your launch details in Projects when you're up and running!
posted by ceri richard at 5:15 AM on February 9, 2006

Best answer: Here's a pretty good "How To" article for setting up a captive portal using m0n0wall (complete with pretty pictures, screen shots, and lotsa links). You can do this with many other combinations of hardware/software, some of which may be a little simpler, but this works.

I'd suggest plugging your DSL/cable modem, routers, firewall, etc. into a uninterruptible power supply (UPS), to avoid odd ball problems from mains glitches, and to provide smooth shutdown if the power goes out for any length of time.

And just because this is something I always wish hotspot operators would provide, but few do, let me put in a word for setting up an inexpensive network printer, that your clients can use to make hard copies, even for a per page fee. Common laser printers with Ethernet interfaces are under $500 these days. Try to pick one with Windows built-in driver support, or put links to driver files for Windows and Mac machines on your captive portal. Put the machine behind the counter, and have employees hand out the pages to clients after collecting the per page charge. Post some instructions about setting up the printer for Windows and Mac clients (Add printer wizard in Windows), or use TCP/IP network printing off your portal machine.

Boy, what I wouldn't have given more than once for a print out I could hand someone, or have signed on the spot, after a business meeting at a WiFi cafe! $1 a page would have been cheap, more than once. I made it a point to put a network printer on my home wireless network, and the convenience of this for visitors is astounding, just for driving directions.
posted by paulsc at 5:32 AM on February 9, 2006

Hmmm, the printer idea is neat.

I kind of agree with the people who say that you'll profit more from free wifi than from charging for it, like Panera doea. Also, if the WiFi is down and people can complain you have the 'what do you want for free' defense instead of having to panic and rush to deal with the problem immediately to satisfy the paying customers.
posted by JamesMessick at 9:09 AM on February 9, 2006

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