Businesses in all industries and market segments are on the hunt for strategies and tactics that produce customer growth.
One tool that is increasing in popularity is high-speed public Wi-Fi, or wireless networking technology.
“With escalating use of mobile Internet service comes demand for 24/7 Internet access,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president at Comcast Business. “Wherever customers are, they want to be able to access their email, phone, text messages and the Web.”
According to Cisco, the 4.1 billion mobile users in 2013 will swell to 4.9 billion by 2018. One result of this growth is a move by some businesses to offer both public and private Wi-Fi networks.
“Where public Wi-Fi can increase customer satisfaction by enabling wireless access, a private Wi-Fi network allows internal company files and information to be shared privately,” Conmy says.
Smart Business spoke with Conmy about the differences in public and private Wi-Fi and why businesses should consider offering both.
How strong is the current demand for Wi-Fi?
Once Wi-Fi is installed, 80 percent of small businesses surveyed by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Bredin reported that it was the most effective amenity to offer customers, topping such freebies as coffee, magazines, TV, water and snacks.
Even businesses that do not currently offer public Wi-Fi see the benefits. Sixty-one percent plan to offer it soon, 41 percent recognize the advantages of using it for marketing and 38 percent see Wi-Fi as important to keeping up with the competition.
Why offer both public and private Wi-Fi networks?
Security is a major factor.
Businesses generally set up a private Wi-Fi network on which corporate communication takes place. It encrypts outgoing and incoming messages to provide data security for important business documents as well as allowing access to servers, email and printers as needed. Private Wi-Fi permits several employees to access the Internet simultaneously.
Public Wi-Fi is not as secure, but is very effective for customer use when on the company’s premises. Customers can check email, complete work and log into social media during times that otherwise might have been unproductive. When you separate public and private wireless networks, it ensures that business information remains safe and secure.
Is there a savings to offering both services?
When you have both public and private networks, employees can access the public service where they can take advantage of no-cost wireless service without logging into the company’s private network.
Not only can this save employees money by reducing the mobile minutes they would be charged for, but if the business pays for the cellular service, it can save the company money as well.
By separating internal and external company Wi-Fi use, speeds of data transfer for employees and customers can be optimized. Patrons and customers using bandwidth on public hot spots will have no impact on a private network if the two are separated.
Are most companies able to set up their own separate networks?
Setting up a router is not difficult.
The setup of two networks, however, is more involved. And it’s important to make sure they are both secure. The benefit of having a commercial Internet provider is that they will often set up your Wi-Fi equipment. Depending on the provider, they may support the equipment and the service, which is a benefit over setting up your own Wi-Fi networks.
How does public Wi-Fi access help from a marketing perspective?
Promoting access to Wi-Fi is another marketing tactic that small businesses with public Wi-Fi can use. Providing access to customers qualifies many businesses to be listed on local Wi-Fi locator maps, offering another potential way to connect with prospective customers. Using other marketing materials such as window stickers and signage helps customers become aware of the availability of Wi-Fi in the business. ●