Hotspot: from an it project to a business


hotspot project

Manager: “We need to add hotspot feature on the Wi-Fi, please activate it!”
Team: “Okay we just need the brand’s logo and it will be activated within a few hours”

In this article I’ll try to explain why you should never hear this in a company.

Hotspot, wireless guest, free Wi-Fi…whatever you name it, there is a big trend to propose Internet connectivity via Wi-Fi all over the world. Cisco says the number of public Hotspot will reach +500M in 2020 and nearly half of them will be in Asia Pacific.

If your company’s business imply to receive people in your premises (Healthcare, retail, leisure, restaurant..) you need to propose Wi-Fi connectivity to Internet.

Ok but Why?

Because your business deserves it, because your competitors will do it, because it will unlock many opportunities.

So let me share with you the global approach I have driven as an IT architect for a big retail company.

Business need: What will adding an hotspot bring to my company?  

First, let me state something: deploying hotspot in your premises is just a cost center if you do not take into consideration the business needs around such service.

Then, this is important to list the reasons WHY your company should offer wireless Internet to its guests, for example:

  • Free Wi-Fi is a must-have facility and all my competitors are proposing it (this is highly true for hotels, airports, retailers, bars, restaurants…)
  • Hotspot will be used as a marketing channel to promote the company, products or services
  • The company wants to collect information about the guest visiting your premises (identity, profile, reason for coming, duration of stay…)
  • I want my guest to be more comfortable during their visit, bringing them to stay longer or to come back

If you are an IT guy, it may not be natural to address these questions so you should strengthen your skills to lead the discussion inside your company with the other departments (Web, marketing, customer service…).

Tips #1: Visit your competitor’s places and connect their Hotspot

The big advantage of Wi-Fi is that it doesn’t stop at the wall, you can connect from the street and see what are the different features proposed by your competitors. Don’t hesitate to connect on Hotspot from other companies also, there are tons of good ideas that you can reuse.

Tips #2: Consider Hotspot service as another channel to interact with your visitors.

Then, you can replicate what is done on other channels (loyalty program, personalised advise, live assistance, advertisement…).

If you are working in a large company, you may have heard that some people already tried to propose Hotspot services locally. I’ll develop some argument for a unique solution in a dedicated article: Why you should deploy a global unique Hotspot solution

At this stage, you have collected a list of expectations and business constraints that will let you find the best partnership.

Solution choice: How to choose your futur Hotspot provider?

Ok, you just asked Google to list the different Hotspot providers and noticed there are plenty of these. Before contacting any of them, you need to identify the constraints to integrate such service into your network infrastructure by answering 2 main questions.

Question #1: Where are the internet access located?

Deploying a Hotspot solution will be very different whether your network contains one Internet access or if these are spread all over the network.

Question #2: Can I send the Wi-Fi traffic to a central point or only locally.

Depending on the technology providing your Wi-Fi coverage, user traffic can be redirected centrally (usually to the Wi-Fi controller) or is computed locally (user traffic is commuted the same way than the wired users).

With the answer to the above question, you will better target the Hotspot deployment typologies that match with your network constraints. Have a look to the detailed article for more details: Hotspot deployment topologies

Knowing your network constraints, you will be able to quickly identify the compatible Hotspot solutions. This is now the time to test it ! Yes, organize a Proof-Of-Concept as soon as possible by doing a quick statement of work and push it to the providers you have identified.

The goal of the POC is to identify forces and weakness of each provider in terms of:

  • Ability to execute: how easy is it to deploy the service?
  • Flexibility of the solution: what is the effort to match with business needs (in term of user experience, data collection, application integration…)?
  • Network integration: Do you need to deploy additional network device/licence to support the Hotspot service?
  • Reporting and analytics: What are the available reports out of the box?

This should help you choosing the most accurate solution for your company.

Build: How to create a captive portal?

Ok, now you have chosen a Hotspot solution provider, you have the list of requirements from the Business. This is now the time to build the service.

As a global approach, I always recommend the “Start small, think big” approach. This is especially true for Hotspot projects because it is very difficult to predict how your visitor will use the service. So you should always start by activating some features available “out of the box”, defined some KPIs to follow-up how the service is used and then iterate evolutions (nothing new, this is, more or less, the Agile methodology).
Captive portal creation

Before going further with the deployment, you have to consider the different legal aspects related to such service. In fact, laws and regulation are not equal in each country so your legal department should validate the constraints for each of them. If you don’t know how to start, have a look at the checklist: Hotspot legal obligations.

Once again, start small and ask them only to validate what is necessary to start deploying the service and throughout your different iteration, your legal department will list the associated constraints.

Depending on the constraints given by your legal department, marketing department should define which kind of data should the company collect through the portal. As stated in introduction, the value of deploying Hotspot services for a company is also in the data the service will be generated and how augmented is this data.

In parallel, you will also ask your Corporate Image department to provide the materials to build the captive portal: logos, colors, fonts, icons… Be careful not to let them do the full design as the Hotspot service will bring a lot of constraints. For example, an Iphone will always display the captive portal inside a pop-up window, then the screen size is smaller than displaying a website in Safari. I recommend to start from a default template brought by the Hotspot provider and customise it to match brand codes.

Now you have the design elements and the legal constraints, this is the time to create the mock-ups and describe the user journey. It is necessary to validate with the Image and Marketing department the different steps the visitor will see before having access to Internet as the user experience is usually aligned with other channels (website, intranet, mobile app…).

Data: How to create value?

Once the user journey is defined, you have to create the KPIs to measure the usage of the service.

Of course, your Hotspot provider will display the total number of connected users but you should also measure the quantity of users that reach each step of the user journey: how many of them display the captive portal and just stop, how many try to connect but didn’t succeed, how many use their Facebook account to log-in. These KPIs will have several goals:

  • Better understand how your visitors use the service (maybe they never reach a specific path of the journey)
  • Make a decision on the evolution to implement the service
  • Check that the evolution of the service didn’t impact the effectiveness of the service

On top of that, some reports can give very accurate information about your visitors:

  • How often they visit you and how many different locations they visit
  • How long did they stay in your place
  • What are their native language
  • Of course, any report based on the specific data you will collect (age, gender, habits…)

Finally, you can export the data to some of you internal applications to add more services (subscribe to the newsletter) or increase the data you already have (by feeding your CRM for example). Check what can be done: Export Hotspot data.

Hey, you are finally done, the hotspot is deployed, your visitors are happy and business got his valuable data. Oh wait… business wants more? That’s what happens when you deploy a good service!

Romain is an I.T consultant who have proven expertise in managing and deploying Wi-Fi infrastructure. Find him on LindkedIn