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A Case for Public Wi-Fi

A tourist using public Wi-Fi

Freely-available public Wi-Fi networks (hotspots) are a powerful tool that organizations can offer their customers or constituents. Prior to this year, I would have argued otherwise; from a security perspective, any time you give access to your network there is the chance that a misconfiguration or software vulnerability could enable miscreants to access something that they shouldn’t be allowed to. If a public Wi-Fi network is deployed correctly, however, this should remain a minimal concern.


Public Wi-Fi Saved My Trip: How Free Wi-Fi Benefits

On a recent trip to Japan, I ran into a bit of a language barrier. While I had about one semester’s worth of Japanese language lessons — the bare minimum for greetings, ordering food, and retail transactions — I was completely unable to read the packaging of the various foods and pharmacy supplies that I needed at the convenience stores. This is where Google Translate comes in. If you’ve never used this amazing tool, give it a try. Select your language and use the ‘Camera’ tool to magically translate any written document you come across. It’s an amazing tool. There was just one problem: my cellular data was not working.

Before leaving for Japan, I had neglected to verify that cellular roaming included data services, and therefore I was only able to receive phone calls and SMS messages. Google Translate was not going to work for me without Internet service. Thankfully, Japan has a well-developed infrastructure and public Wi-Fi is available everywhere. At the convenience store? Check. Free Wi-Fi was available. At the museum? Check. At the hotel? Check. At the park? Check. At the train station? Check. Walking around the shopping centers of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, or Kobe? Check. Wi-Fi was available and coming from... somewhere. All I had to do was register with a social media account or email address and agree to the requirements listed on the splash page.


From Tourist Struggle to Public Wi-Fi Hero: How Free Wi-Fi Boosts Businesses

While public Wi-Fi certainly made my life easier, what benefits did the cities, shops, and parks receive? I suspect that their main benefit was an economic one. I certainly purchased more goods and services from the stores and shopping centers where I was able to use Google Translate to find what I needed or wanted. One could argue that my ability to navigate with digital maps and access to transportation schedules led to less strain on the local authorities or businesses, as I didn’t need to ask for help or directions. Beyond that, the entire experience left a positive impression on me and I’m certainly willing to return to Japan and marvel at their infrastructure again. Side note: do a search for ‘Japan manhole covers’ and prepare to be amazed at exactly how much pride and craftsmanship they put into their public works.


Beyond Tourists: Creative Uses of Free Public Wi-Fi for Businesses and Organizations

So, what if your organization doesn’t cater to tourists? How can you benefit from offering free Wi-Fi to guests and visitors? Here are some ideas:

  • Enable access to online visitor registration portals, virtual concierge services, or make IP-based video calls to the individual(s) they are visiting. As an example, look at Teleportivity.

  • Enable access to digital wayfinding services.

  • Public organizations, such as schools and municipalities, can provide connectivity to residents to help with accessing homework assignments, online enrollment services, or city services.

  • Leverage location tracking software to identify traffic patterns, areas where crowds congregate, or which areas are most attractive to visitors.


Public Wi-Fi: Security Concerns and Solutions for Businesses

Security and liability are always concerns for any network — especially networks that serve the public. Thankfully, modern cloud-based Wi-Fi platforms make it easy to set up guest or public Wi-Fi networks. Here are some recommendations that can improve the security of your offering:

  • Leverage the built-in features: Use your Wi-Fi platform’s features to segregate public/guest traffic from your production systems. This can be as simple as leveraging a dedicated IP address range and access-control lists, or as complex as tunneling guest traffic to a controller outside of your network. Most platforms are flexible enough to make these configurations as simple or as complex as you need to fit your environment.
  • Require users to log in: They can log in from a social network (Google, Meta, LinkedIn) or a validated email address with a confirmation code. This may help to eliminate some troublemakers and can help law enforcement track down any misuse of your network.
  • Post a splash page: This page would indicate which activities are permissible or explicitly forbidden on your network. Require users to acknowledge these requirements before gaining access.
  • Consider capping the maximum throughput per user: If this network will share the bandwidth of your product systems, then cap each user’s maximum throughput or overall throughput available for the public SSID.
  • Consider leveraging application-based control features: Use these features to block peer-to-peer and other undesirable traffic. A system like Cisco’s Umbrella can leverage DNS-based filtering of URLs and web-based applications without any hardware or additional infrastructure.
  • Double-check the legal language provided by your ISP: Make sure that offering public Wi-Fi doesn’t violate your contract. If your Internet service is funded by E-Rate (or some other grant), make sure that public Wi-Fi doesn’t violate the conditional funding rules.


I hope my experience encourages more organizations to take a chance on offering free Wi-Fi to guests, visitors, and to the public. You may even find some surprising use cases to improve your organization in unconventional ways.

Want to learn more about how you can leverage the power of public Wi-Fi to improve your business? Visit today to explore our solutions and unlock the hidden potential of your guest network!