What is a WiFi Hotspot?
A WiFi Hotspot is an area that has WiFi access to the Internet. The term Hotspot is now used interchangeably for the both the area where the signal is available and the device (WiFi Router or WiFi Access Point) that is broadcasting the signal. Likewise the terms "WiFi Router" and "WiFi Access Point" (AP) are often used interchangeably.
How to buy and set-up a WiFi Router.
The great thing about setting up a Hotspot System in a Coffee shop is that normally one WiFi router will cover the whole building so it's not very complex to set-up. Wireless routers can now be bought for around $50 so setting up a Hotspot doesn't need to be expensive. The only other thing you would need is a DSL or cable connection to your shop. Depending on where you live these normally cost around $30/mo.
How to control access.
The easiest way to setup a Hotspot is to set the router wireless security settings as "Disabled" or "Open". That would allow everyone access, but how can you control the amount of bandwidth a customer uses or how long they spend online?
One option would be to set a WPA or WEP key on the router and give that to your customers. That would stop people in the neighbourhood using your connection but would not allow you to set time limits on how long your customers could spend online.
In order to do that you will need a hosted or stand alone "Captive Portal" this is a specially modified WiFi router that appears as an Open or Unencrypted WiFi signal but then redirects any traffic to a specific web page called a "Splash Page" where your often asked to login or purchase internet access.
Hosted captive portals are often provided free of charge to business owners in exchange for a share of the revenue from the hotspot. With a hosted solution your customer gets redirected to the servers of the WiFi Company and has to pay for Internet access online. Standalone captive portals are normally sold outright to the business owner and allow you to generate tickets, which you can sell (or give) to your customers. Each ticket allows Internet access for a defined amount of time. A nice thing to do is to give your customer a free 30-min ticket with the first coffee they buy, then if they want to stay online longer they need to come back to the counter and buy another ticket, or another coffee:-RRB-.
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