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

  • I n the hospitality industry, providing WiFi access is a common practice, but delivering it professionally is essential. The reputation and trust of those offering this service (you!) are at stake. In a hotel setting, relying on a shared WiFi password for all guests is simply not an option. Instead, a robust system that allows for individual logins is crucial to maintain control and ensure a seamless experience for every guest.

    Why Choose a Captive Portal solution?
    When it comes to providing individual logins in hotels, a Captive Portal solution emerges as the preferred choice. This approach involves providing guests with unique credentials, typically given during check-in, granting them internet access for the duration of their stay and for a specific number of devices (typically matching the number of guests in the room). Individual logins offer a wide array of benefits, including online monitoring, bandwidth control, usage tracking, and the ability to disconnect individual users, among others.

    A comprehensive Captive Portal solution should encompass various features that cater to the specific requirements of a hotel environment:

    Flexibility: The solution should seamlessly adapt to existing or new network architectures, ensuring easy installation and updates. It should integrate smoothly without causing disruptions. Additionally, it must allow for the utilization of existing network access devices, eliminating the need for additional investments.

    Customizability: Since the login page is visible to not only hotel guests but also visitors, it should offer customization options. Hoteliers should have the ability to tailor the user experience by configuring individual access profiles.

    On-Premises Deployment: Installing the solution on-premises is preferable to a cloud-based approach for hotels. Cloud solutions often involve expensive access points and recurring payments per access point, which may not align with the cost-effectiveness requirements of hotels. A robust captive portal solution, such as WifiGem, should provide the option to deploy either an on-premises cloud or a bridge-based architecture, allowing hotels to choose the most suitable option based on their specific needs (see the differences here To understand the pros and cons of each architecture, refer to the detailed comparison at the end of this article.

    Security: Ensuring the separation of guest traffic from hotel staff traffic is crucial. The captive portal solution should prevent unauthorized access to hotel devices on the local area network (LAN), safeguarding critical systems such as booking/accounting systems, points of sale, cameras, email servers and more.

    Scalability: As hotels grow and expand, the captive portal solution should facilitate the seamless addition of new access points and network switches without the need for complex configuration or signing new contracts.

    Cost-Effectiveness: Implementing the system should be economically viable, providing a reasonable return on investment compared to the benefits it offers. A comprehensive solution should include professional design support and continuous assistance to ensure smooth operations.

    In the end, it's no longer just about choosing a solution; it's about selecting the right product. Does the product fulfill all the requirements mentioned above? Does it provide professional support? Does it encompass all the necessary features? Will it seamlessly integrate with your existing processes, or will you need to adapt your processes to fit it? These are crucial questions to consider when making a decision. And it's worth noting that while hotels are used as an example, the same considerations apply to restaurants, gyms, schools, and other public places.

    Bridge-based architecture pros and cons. In this setup, the captive portal server is positioned between the access points and the Internet, resulting in all network traffic passing through the captive portal appliance. Pros: There is no need for special functions on the access points, making them more cost-effective. The captive portal service can be offered to both wireless and wired devices. Additional functions, such as filtering malicious websites, can be provided. Adding or removing access points does not require complex configuration. Cons: The captive portal service is limited to a local area network (LAN) that is directly connected to the captive portal server. It means that guests can only access the captive portal and its associated features if they are connected to the access points on this specific LAN, affecting the convenience and flexibility of the service in situations where guests are spread across multiple areas.
    One misconception regarding the bridge mode is its perceived impact on performance. It might seem intuitive to assume that the captive portal traffic flowing through the WifiGem server would create a bottleneck and negatively affect overall performance. However, this assumption is unfounded, as extensive tests have demonstrated that WifiGem is able to handle high volumes of traffic efficiently without affecting in any way speed or responsiveness. By employing advanced networking technologies, efficient traffic management algorithms, and robust hardware infrastructure, WifiGem can effectively handle the traffic load without becoming a performance bottleneck.

    Cloud-based architecture pros and cons. In this scenario, the captive portal server is located on the same LAN as the hotel or in a different location like the service provider data center. However, it is not placed in the direct path between the access points and the Internet. Pros: Once a guest device is authenticated, the access point provides a direct connection to the Internet. Additionally, deploying 4G/5G access point devices allows the captive portal service to be extended to the hotel's vehicle fleet. Cons: Access points in this setup require special functions, such as basic captive portal support with the ability to connect to an external authentication server and an external login page. As a result, their cost is higher. Each access point must be carefully configured through its own configuration software and then synchronized with the captive portal server. Lastly, wired devices cannot be connected to the captive portal in this configuration.

    Published on June 30, 2023

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