For many modern businesses, sharing Internet access with guests is a must. But it’s not as simple as pointing visitors to a router with the network name and password information conveniently displayed on the back of it. And for many organizations, it’s not realistic or safe to give out the main Wi-Fi network password at all.
This is why companies opt to create a distinct guest network for visitors, which is essentially a separate access point on your router. This allows visitors to connect on their smartphones, computers, or tablets while they’re sitting in a waiting room or working in the space, without them gaining access to your main business network.
But, though it’s separate, is this always a good idea? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
A big benefit of an unprotected guest network is that users can find the network name without having to worry about a password. Often, the guest option has nearly the same name as the primary network with “Guest” attached to it. This makes the process simple for visitors—whether they are family members in a hospital or clients in a business meeting—to connect easily, increasing customer satisfaction.
Another pro of a guest network is security. A separate network for users keeps their devices independent from your business’s own devices and information, such as printers or shared files and data. And you can manage the two networks separately, configuring them however is needed, without affecting the other one.
For example, if you want to give guest users very simple Internet access without the ability to download anything, you can restrict the bandwidth that visitors can use. You can also have set times that visitors can connect to the guest network, and can even limit the number of guests that can connect at one time.
This increases security for the company because visitors could also inadvertently download malware that could infect the network; keeping it separate ensures that your primary network remains secure. And with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), even more, vulnerable devices are needing to constantly connect.
Many routers allow you to set up guest access via multiple Wi-Fi networks with different configurations on each of them, so you’ll want to ensure you have a router with this capability. Otherwise, you will have to hook up another router or access point.
Despite these advantages, a guest network could also start to clog up your primary network, especially if there are many different visitors trying to connect at the same time. And customers in any industry do expect to have Internet access. Pew Research shows that 81 percent of Americans own a smartphone—an increase of almost 50 percent from 2011—and around half of adults own a tablet computer and an e-reader device.
The number of users trying to connect is only increasing. And allowing each and every visitor with a smart device to check their social media and email or stream their favorite television shows will end up putting more strain on the overall network. In addition, this type of Wi-Fi use from one guest can decrease network access that other guests are able to receive.
However, this issue can be solved in part by limited the network’s bandwidth that visitors can use, and you could even restrict streaming (though this may not lead to as much customer satisfaction as you’d like).
Another issue is whether or not to have the guest network password-protected. As mentioned above, the benefit of an unprotected network is that users don’t have to seek out the access code and can connect right away. However, without a password, remember that any other user nearby who’s not a guest could potentially connect to the network. So, if you do decide to have a password on the guest network for added security, at least make sure it’s posted somewhere that visitors can see.
There are pros and cons to creating a guest network. A comprehensive Wi-Fi monitoring strategy will ensure that multiple Wi-Fi networks remain secure and that the latest security best practices and devices are being used in the implementation.
7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.