What is a Captive Portal? Your Guide to Capturing More Business Wirelessly

Academy 11 minute read 28th March 2022

If you’re running a physical business, free Wi-Fi access for customers is an expected perk nowadays. You can simply give away your Wi-Fi password, or you can use a captive portal to restrict access to legitimate customers.

What is a captive portal? How does it work? Why do you need it for your business? Here’s everything you need to know to help you capture more business through your wireless network.

Captive portal meaning

What does “captive portal” mean? A captive portal is the customized landing page that businesses use as a primary access point to their Wi-Fi network. The user of the public-access or business network is required to pass through this “portal” in order to connect to the Wi-Fi hotspot.

Captive portals are widely used by hotels, coffee shops, shopping centers, and airports, among many others.

What is a captive portal - 3 kinds of logins

Small businesses can provide guest Wi-Fi access to customers by giving them the Wi-Fi password when they come in. But what will prevent these customers from accessing the network any time they’re within range?

One option is for business owners/managers to change the Wi-Fi password on a regular basis. Using a captive portal, however, is the simpler solution.

What is captive portal authorization?

When a user attempts to log into a public-access or business network, with a captive portal they are taken to a landing page where they’re required to take a certain action before being given internet access.

The process of user authorization is typically in the form of an acknowledgment of the networks usage agreement or acceptable use policy, or the entry of a pre-assigned user ID and password.

This means that captive portals are customisable in how they allow users onto the network, depending on the businesses security requirements.

What is a captive portal login?

When Wi-Fi users try to connect to a network, or open a browser while already using a particular Wi-Fi network, they are first taken to the captive-portal login page.

A captive portal login serves as a transitional or access page that typically requires an authorized user’s log-in information.

In hotels, for example, new guests who are checking in are provided with the hotel’s Wi-Fi name and a limited-use username and password to access the Wi-Fi for the length of their stay.

The guest enters their assigned username and password into the captive portal log-in page in order to use the hotel’s internet connection.

What is a captive portal used for?

What is a captive portal - Process of login

Why should you get a captive portal for your business? What is a captive portal used for?

Unrestricted access to your business’ Wi-Fi network poses security risks, both to your business and legit Wi-Fi users, and also facilitates potential bandwidth hogging.

A captive portals purpose is to strengthen network security and bandwidth management, enhance the user experience, and even give you excellent opportunities for marketing and business growth.

How to set up a captive portal

Setting up a captive portal for a Wi-Fi network may vary depending on a business’ network setup. Here are the basic steps.

  1. Make sure your firmware is up-to-date.
  2. Access the web-based setup page for your network’s access point.
  3. Enable a captive portal for your network. Go to your network’s access point’s setup menu and find the option to enable it under “captive portal” or “global configuration.” If you can’t find the captive portal feature, you’ll need to upgrade your access point to a model that supports it.
  4. Customize your captive portal settings. You’ll be able to name your portal, protect your portal with a password, and choose to redirect the portal to an existing web page.
  5. Customize what your customers see when they attempt to access your Wi-Fi network. This also allows you to determine how to authorize guests to access your network.
  6. Associate your captive portal with a wireless radio band to control customers’ bandwidth access, and with an SSID profile to allow guest Wi-Fi access.
  7. Use a Wi-Fi enabled device to test your captive portal.

How to use captive portal as a marketing tool

What a captive portal is for Wi-Fi guest users and for businesses has taken on a whole new meaning. As a marketing platform, a captive portal helps businesses enhance guest Wi-Fi user experience, capture relevant data to better understand their customers, and give customers more options to engage with them.

Using a captive portal to enhance the guest experience

A captive portal can give you key insights about the people who support your business. You can collect relevant and actionable marketing information from guests who log into your Wi-Fi network; analyze metrics based on daily, weekly, and monthly network traffic; and compare the business performance of multiple locations based on guest Wi-Fi access data.

Using a captive portal to bolster your brand image

With guest information collected from your captive portal login page, you can create a mailing list and ask customers for feedback. The captive portal app will also allow you to manage all your reviews so you can publish positive ones to strengthen your online presence, and divert negative reviews through an internal feedback form.

Using a captive portal to encourage customer loyalty

Your captive portal can be used as a smart marketing tool that lets you customize customer engagement via personalized emails during birthdays, customer rewards for loyal patronage, and campaigns that increase the number of returning customers.

The benefits of using a captive portal

We have answered the question, “What is a captive portal?” Let us take a look at its many benefits and why you should start using a captive portal to enhance your guest Wi-Fi services.

What is a captive portal - Messaging

  1. Use a captive portal landing page to require users to agree with your Terms of Service. As you have no control over how your guest Wi-Fi is used, this measure will protect you from liability in case a guest engages in illegal, malicious, or destructive online activities.
  2. Provide guest Wi-Fi to verified customers. You can make sure that only paying customers get Wi-Fi access by providing them with the password (and, sometimes, a customized username) on their receipt or together with their key card, for example. They will input the Wi-Fi password via the captive portal.
  3. Control bandwidth allocation. A captive portal also lets you customize time limits for Wi-Fi use per device or customer, limit the number of devices that can connect to the Wi-Fi (per hotel room, for example), and prevent bandwidth hogging. You can program your captive portal to enable “bandwidth throttling” or “traffic shaping” and limit the size of downloaded files, the download speed for large files, the number of downloads per session, or even block sites that are commonly accessed to download large files.
  4. Take advantage of Wi-Fi marketing options for your business. What a captive portal is used for has now expanded to seamless marketing. As a marketing platform, a captive portal can be used for customer surveys or reviews, sponsored ads, ongoing or upcoming promotions, and social media engagement, among others.

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