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What is the best WiFi solution to provide individual logins for hotel customers?

  • I n a hotel, providing WiFi access is normal, doing it professionally is a must. The credibility and good name of those who offer the service (you!) are at stake. In a hotel, offering a WiFi service with the same password for everyone is simply not an option. You need a system that gives you full control of who is connecting, and this can only be achieved through individual logins.

    Now, what is the "best" solution for providing such a service? The solution is typically a Captive Portal. The credentials (username and password) are usually provided during check-in and allow Internet access for the entire stay and for a certain number of devices, generally the number of guests in the same room. The benefits offered by individual logins are undeniable, and span from online monitoring to bandwidth control, usage monitoring, individual kick off, etc.

    However, these aree just some of the many features offered by a captive portal, features that easily cover the most common requirements for a hotel:

    Flexibility: It must be able to adapt to new or existing network architectures, install and update easily, and work smoothly, as if it weren't there. It must allow to use existing network access devices, without forcing the purchase of new ones.

    Customizability: It must allow you to customize the login page, since the login page is generally visible to anyone, not just hotel guests. It must allow you to easily customize the user experience by configuring individual access profiles.

    On-premises: It must be something a hotel can install on premises. This solution should be preferred over a cloud solution because the latter requires the purchase of expensive access points and recurring payments, usually per-access point. Hotels are not cafes, they must cover a large area with a high number of access points. Paying licenses per-access point for a cloud-based system is not the best idea. But the cloud is not at all to blame. The captive portal must be able to allow the customer to choose the type of architecture to deploy: a on-premises cloud, or a bridge-based architecture (see the differences here https://wifigem.com/schemes). There are pros and cons in each of them, and a good product, such as WifiGem, should be able to offer both solutions and, even better, have them working simultaneously. See pros and cons at the bottom of this article.

    Security: It must separate guest traffic from hotel staff traffic and prevent anyone from accessing hotel devices on the LAN (Booking/accounting system, Points of Sales, Cameras, Email server, ...).

    Scalability: If the network grows, it must be simple to just install new access points, new network switches etc. without previously signing a new contract.

    Cost-effectiveness: There must be no need to get a mortgage to install such a system. The cost must be "reasonable", compared with the benefit it provides, and it must include support for professional design and continuous assistance.

    In the end, the question is no longer about what type of solution, but what type of product. Does it cover all the points above? Does it offer professional support? Does it have all the features I need? Does it fit my processes or do I have to adapt my processes to it? I hope you won't blame on me if I ended up with more questions than I was supposed to answer...

    By the way...hotels are taken as an example, the same argument applies to restaurants, gyms, schools or other public places.

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    Bridge-based architecture pros and cons. The captive portal server is located on the network between the access points and the Internet, all network traffic passes through the captive portal appliance. Pros: no special functions are required on the access points, they can be very cheap; the captive portal service can be offered to wireless and wired devices; extra functions can be provided, such as a filtering malicious websites; adding/removing access points doesn't require any configuration. Cons: all network traffic crosses the captive portal server, which can become a bottleneck.

    Cloud-based architecture pros and cons. The captive portal server is located on the same LAN as the hotel or in another location (e.g. the service provider data center), but not on the path between access points and the Internet. Pros: once a guest device has been authenticated, the AP provides direct connection to the Internet; 4G/5G AP devices can be deployed, to offer captive portal service to the hotel's vehicle fleet. Cons: Access Points must have special functions (basic captive portal, ability to connect to external authentication server, ability to connect to external login page) therefore their cost is higher; each access point must be carefully configured through its configuration software, then it must also be configured on the captive portal server; no wired devices can be connected to the captive portal.

    Published on July 28, 2020

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