How does a business get Wi-Fi capability?

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Scott Wong, Jun 10, 2006.

  1. Scott Wong

    Scott Wong Second Unit

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    ...just moved from Mpls. to Houston. I'm going to be working with my wife at her parent's businesses... one of which is a small coffee shop.

    How does their coffee shop go about obtaining Wi-Fi capability? We wouldn't be supplying computers or notebooks for customers to use like an actual "Internet Cafe"... but thought we'd utilize the 'ol Starbucks idea... i.e., sip on your coffee, eat your doughnuts and surf the 'Net with your own laptop.

    Who would we contact? Would a local high-speed internet supplier (Time Warner Cable) set up the network for us? Or is there another type of business that installs this kind of equipment?

    My thought was we'd obtain high-speed internet for a business.... provide a wireless router and dispurse the signal to customers in the coffee shop. I'm assuming the "network" wouldn't necessarily be secure, so to speak... otherwise, we'd have to hand out a user name and password... correct?

    I'd appreciate any info you guys might be able to give us.
     
  2. Michael_K_Sr

    Michael_K_Sr Screenwriter

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    I suppose you could contact one of the big Wi-Fi providers like T-Mobile or SBC to see what they charge to provide access.


    Some of the coffee houses here that provide Wi-Fi access have initiated the same idea and found that it is highly successful...minus the coffee sipping and doughnut eating. That is, Internet freeloaders come in, camp out and use the Net all day or all night without ordering a thing. In fact, it can deter actual coffee buyers if they come in and see that there is nowhere to sit because everyone is camped out with their laptop. Just something to consider...
     
  3. SethH

    SethH Cinematographer

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    If it's going to be free then all you need to do is order Business DSL or Business Cable service and hook up a wireless router. If you keep any store information on a computer you'll want it completely separated from what the customers are using to keep your data safe.

    There's really no reason to have this done professionally unless you're planning to charge money for it -- and even then there's probably some pre-packaged software to help with that.
     
  4. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

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    You should look into a functionality called "captive portal". This is available in firewalls, for example, or dedicated hardware.

    It basically works so that all traffic is redirected to a web page demanding a login. That way you can have a wide open WLAN technically, but still require people to log in on a web page before they can access the Internet. You can also make sure that every username/password issues has only so much time to use it before it is cut off and requires a new login/password, for instance.

    Wikipedia has a little info as usual.

    Personally? I'd probably find an old clunker of a PC (we're talking anything with an x86 CPU basically, 486:es are fine and anything above of course), make sure it had two network cards by adding one if necessary, install m0n0wall on it thus getting a great firewall with lots of solid features - one of which is a captive portal implementation that should be plenty good enough for the light use you mention.

    Normally one needs a RADIUS server for authentication, but with the built-in user manager in the m0n0wall you can set up different users for different days, at least; users can be set up to automatically expire on a daily basis. This would let you control who had access - basically, anyone who purchased a cup of coffee could get the daily login codes.

    I could set that up in 15 minutes, but I'm used to m0n0wall and use it daily. A moderately savvy computer user? A few hours, max, I'd say.

    By adding a third network card to the firewall PC you could use the same firewall for your internal wired "coffee shop network" to access the internet, and still keep it completely separated from the wireless network which would be on its own network interface.

    Configuration of the m0n0wall is almost entirely via a web page, with the exception of the very basic tasks at first; setting up the network interfaces and IP addresses on those.
     
  5. Tekara

    Tekara Supporting Actor

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    Many of the major coffee shop places in the US decided to start offering wifi not because it was any great convienience but because it kept their customers in the shop longer. Your average coffee shop patron will usually purchase a cup and then immediately jet off. Which is fine if you own a kiosk, but a terrible thing if you have a open siting area.

    With Wifi you'll have people that hang around to use the internet which in turn will make the shop look more populated and that right there is what will cause more people to come and buy. People feel better about a purchase when it's a popular purchase anyone can tell you of something they bought because everyone else was doing it.

    I would instead go with a open wireless, allow anyone on. Passwords and keys sound great, but they are a irritant to the customer; and are likely to cause him to go elsewhere where it's easier. And even if you get a person that comes in just to use the internet, that's fine. His long term exposure to your product is still a good thing, it's better than any commercial could hope for. After all, where's he going to tell others he hangs out at?

    As said before, all you need is a business internet connection and a simple wireless router. I would reccomend buying something a little higher quality like Cisco since your expecting more active connections than the average home use.

    I would suggest that you make sure you restrict the transmit power of your wireless router, set it so that you pretty much be inside or right next to the coffee shop to use the internet. Also make sure that you turn the router off after hours.
     
  6. SethH

    SethH Cinematographer

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    I agree with Rob about the transmit power. You don't want people to sit in their cars with laptops and use your service.
     
  7. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

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    I disagree. It's a bad idea to lower transmit power, because the hacker always has a bigger antenna. Now, assuming someone actually feels the need to use your connection when there are probably a dozen wide open ones in the close vicinity, they just need a decent directional antenna and low transmit power doesn't mean a thing.

    However, if you worry about customers who are cranky about passwords, just watch them get a bad connection that flakes out on them due to your low transmit power.

    I also disagree about allowing wide open access. There is little reason to do that, and it definitely opens you up to the people-in-a-car crowd.

    A captive portal is pretty unobtrusive - the customer just opens their browser and goes to any web site in the world. Thousands of hotspots already use them. Instead of getting to the site on the first try he/she gets redirected to a friendly web page that asks them to enter todays username and password which they should already have received. Heck, post it on a wall somewhere first thing in the morning so anyone who enters the premises can see it easily, the wifi is just meant to be a way to draw people in after all.

    Captive portal will limit the amount of people who can use the service to people who have been in the shop that day and are in range, and the m0n0wall implementation of it will (in the latest beta, and soon to be released 1.23) allow you to specify a maximum speed per person, which is another good thing for a shared wireless network.
     
  8. Tekara

    Tekara Supporting Actor

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    I wouldn't worry about "hackers," just keep the store computer offline. Lowering the transmit power does work, just don't be overzealous and paranoid.

    Adding wireless is a business move and should be treated as such. Keep it accessible and use it to draw people to the store. There is no reason to worry about moochers that hang out in cars or stop by the shop just to use the internet, this isn't your home connection. Your wireless is providing exposure even to moochers.

    You should however look into bandwidth limitation, so that one person doesn't bog down the entire connection with a major download.
     
  9. Dennis*G

    Dennis*G Supporting Actor

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    I agree with Kimmo on this one. Captive portal to 'sign-in' first will keep the moochers on the street/cars from gaining access, but gives you customers easy/simple access to the web. It's what a lot of hotels and some hospitals I have been to use.

    Just keep a sign by the cash register with the days password on it and your set.
     
  10. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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    I work in IT for a large multi-hospital healthcare organization, and we are in the process of turning on "guest wireless" Internet access for visitors in several of our facilities. We are using the organization's existing wireless network, but firewalling the guest wireless users so they cannot get to the internal network. We also are limiting the amount of bandwidth guests can use so there is no impact on production traffic.

    A couple of things to consider:

    1. Login ids vs. "open access": Someone has to create, maintain and dsitribute those userids. For a small coffee shop, that may not be a big deal, but it was for us, especially since we do not have customer service IT staff at these sites. We opted for open access, with an initial "splash page" with a legal disclaimer for liability issues. We also restrict access via a Bluecoat content filter to prevent guests from going to certain sites (porn, etc.).

    2. If you place this on your existing network, make sure the guest access side is separated and your internal network is secure. If you are unfamiliar with the proper way to do this, hire someone to do it correctly.
     
  11. Tekara

    Tekara Supporting Actor

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    I would agree with Kimmo if this were a hotel, since their internet access would normally be available 24hrs. But in a coffee shop the wifi should only be available during business hours. With the wifi in a coffee shop your usually using it to attract a crowd, whereas in a hotel your aiming for convienienc to the customer.

    Worst case scenario with moochers is that the entire town parks outside the coffee shop to mooch internet and you have a bunch of folks with laptops inside. . . would make that coffee shop look like the hippest place in the state if there was such a large crowd [​IMG]. But since the typical coffee shop customer buys coffee and then leaves to work, it is not as big a deal as it would be if this were a diner. But realisticly your at most going to only have one or two which would be pretty insignificant.

    In addition, such a set up requires daily maintanaince to adjust the logins. Which means that your going to have more than just the IT guy needing to know the admin login to be able to make the adjustments.
     
  12. Paul McElligott

    Paul McElligott Cinematographer

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    There are also businesses that place a wireless "kiosk" in your shop. This is usually owned by a third party who is responsible for maintaining it. As the store owner, you get a cut of the revenue generated, included advertising that the owner of the machine sells.

    I have no idea, however, how success this business model has been. I looked into it a couple years ago but didn't follow up.
     
  13. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

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    Actually, and again going with the m0n0wall I suggested (there are tons of other options, it's just the first thing to spring to mind for me since I use it and like it) you can set up an administrative user id that is limited to nothing more than accessing the captive portal settings. And of course, there is no reason to change the password from day to day if you don't mind people knowing it - it still would take a visit to the shop to see the password in the first place.

    As for advertising value... with captive portal, you also get a web page where you can let people know automatically what network they are accessing and who to thank for it. If it is just wide open, people will surf and not give a rats behind who provides the service.

    Also, it's worth re-saying that the ability to limit the connections people get so the bandwidth is shared equally could be invaluable. If you get someone who comes in, grabs a cup of coffee and fires up his bittorrent client and starts leeching pornography off the net, the rest of the people will be pretty unhappy with the few k's per second left.

    It may sound far fetched but you should always plan for the worst and hope for the best, not just hope for the best...
     
  14. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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    You can do this without creating and maintaining login ids. As I mentioned above, we present a splash page with a disclaimer when a guest first accesses our hospital's guest wireless service via a Bluecoat/Websense cache & webfilter appliance. The same appliance limits bandwidth usage for these users. However, there is no userid requirement. Other companies sell similar products -- Cisco, for example, has a guest wireless product that can be configured anywhere from wide open to taking credit cards as a charging mechanism.
     
  15. Scott Wong

    Scott Wong Second Unit

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    You guys, I really appreciate all of the info!! Very cool, indeed.

    I don't even really know how I should go about getting started with this. I know for a fact that Time Warner Cable offers Roadrunner for businesses. I was thinking of calling them and seeing if they service the area where the coffee shop is... if so, I'll go from there.

    I know I'll need a wireless router in the coffee shop... but there currently isn't a PC in the coffee shop. I am assuming I'll have to bring my own personal laptop to the shop to get this set up...?? I am going to probably leave the access wide-open so that I do not deter customers at all... this is the last thing I want to do as the shop as been slow. I am needing to attact customers to this location for my mother-in-law... and I think Wi-Fi will help add to the attraction.

    I do, however, as someone mentioned previously, want to limit bandwidth capability within the shop... i.e., not having one individual hover in a corner downloading music, porn, etc, etc. I do not know how to do this... I'm assuming I'll have to consult some kind of computer professional of some sort. What kind of computer consultant would do this type of work...? I'm clueless as to who I should even be looking for in the yellow pages...?

    My other concern is since our laptop will be at the shop (so that we can use the Internet, too) is security... again, as someone mentioned... I do not want any of the data on our personal laptop accessible to customers in the shop. This is common sense... however, this is another item I am unsure as to how to specify and will need to be done professionally.

    Aside from that, it sounds like the only thing that we need is the high speed access out there, a wireless router and someone who knows how to configure all of this...

    Any other tips or suggestions would be appreciated.... thanks again, everyone. [​IMG]
     
  16. Tekara

    Tekara Supporting Actor

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    For your personal laptop you just need a personal firewall like the one built into windows XP or perhaps a little better like Kerio Firewall. I would leave personal security matters up to the individual customer. While there are things you can do I believe it is a good deal more that is really needed here. Pretty much make sure you have file sharing disabled in windows and you'll be good.

    Your pretty much spot on, on what you need. [​IMG]

    I will stress again though that you should spend extra money on your access point. Buy something nice and something reliable, I tend to prefer Cisco equipment in such an environment, many of their APs should include ability to control bandwidth useage by themselves.

    One major reason that you want to spend extra is that your typical home wireless access point only needs to handle a couple active connections. Your coffee shop will need to be able to handle a shop full of customers (and preferably more for overhead). An access point is basically a little computer, it can only handle so much at once, so plan accordingly.
     
  17. SethH

    SethH Cinematographer

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    For security on your own laptop -- assuming you're going to use it wirelessly -- I would buy a second access point. I agree with Rob that you should probably buy a business-class router for the customers to use. However, I would then buy a home wireless router to use for your own computer.

    Setup your business router and then run a cord from a LAN port on the business router to the WAN port on the home router. Setup your home router with MAC address filtering (since you're only using one computer) and WPA2 encryption. This is by no means 100% safe, but it's about as good as you'll get on your budget for a business your size.
     

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