The top performers in our reviews are Wavespot, the Gold Award winner; Social Spot WiFi, the Silver Award winner; and Wifi-soft, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the best hotspot software.
Whether they are visiting a coffee shop or a retail store, customers will often base their shopping decisions on the availability of Wi-Fi. It's generally easy enough to make your Wi-Fi connection open to the public, but it becomes a little more difficult to control what happens on that network. You don't want one person bogging down connection speeds for others or visiting unsafe websites. Hotspot internet software gives you the control you need over your network and the customers you allow to access it. These services allow you to control how customers connect to your network and how they are able to use that network. In short, free Wi-Fi for your customers can benefit your business in numerous ways, and hotspot software lets you manage your public Wi-Fi without requiring a lot of effort from you.
There are specific studies of the benefits of offering public Wi-Fi. Our sister site, Business News Daily, details the pros of offering free public hotspots. One statistic from the article states that 47% of customers are more likely to shop at a store that offers free Wi-Fi and 28% would stay in your store for a longer time because of the Wi-Fi.
While offering a free hotspot can help drive customers to your location, hotspot software can also help you do something meaningful with the traffic that connects to your network. A good hotspot software will offer marketing tools that collect customer information for you, which you can then utilize in your marketing campaigns. Imagine the marketing power of gathering the demographics and email addresses of the customers coming to your store without having to pay for expensive analytic software and services. With that information, you can target specific groups of customers and drive more traffic to your store. With the best hotspot software, you can even get your customers to market for you through their social media profiles.
Most hotspot software works with your existing internet provider and wireless router, so you won't have to replace hardware you've already purchased for your business. Companies providing this service typically have a combined software and hardware setup. After purchasing the software – through either a one-time license fee or a monthly subscription – you will receive an additional router-like box that connects to your compatible wireless router. This box acts as a gateway and works in tandem with the software to protect and even monetize your network by requiring customers to sign in before browsing.
Most hotspot software providers offer a variety of different plan structures, but we looked at each company's equivalent of a standard version. While the companies typically have varying names for these versions, they are all comparable in the features they provide, such as splash page customization, content filtering and marketing tools.
The dashboard is where you get to control your network, so that is where we focused our attention. We centered our evaluation on the features and services available on the dashboard in four different categories: Administrator Interface, Security and Filtering, and Customer Access. We found these categories to be the core of hotspot software when thinking about the control you have over your network. We also evaluated the support you can expect from each company if something goes wrong.
Administrator Interface: Find Simple and Accessible Controls
One of the most important things hotspot software providers offer is control over your public Wi-Fi. As an administrator, you should be able to use the dashboard to control your network without needing to study user manuals for hours beforehand. Our evaluation of each interface included how each dashboard handled navigation, customization, marketing, security and reports. Different companies will typically offer different ways of accomplishing these tasks within the dashboard, and ease of use is something the best hotspot software focuses on. Things such as customizing splash pages shouldn't require extensive web design knowledge. Navigation should be intuitive and you shouldn't have to click through the entire dashboard in order to accomplish something simple. Access to marketing, security and reporting features should be intuitive and shouldn't require in-depth knowledge of marketing or IT services. Top services like Wavespot allow you to tweak all of these controls directly from the interface without requiring you to navigate deep into the dashboard.
Being able to access the administrator interface from the any web browser is also very important. Cloud access to the dashboard means you can control and monitor your network from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection.
While the majority of hotspot software gives you options for understanding the customers who are connecting to your network, the best options will also allow to utilize that data for the benefit of your business. Through demographics reports and access to public social media profiles, these services can provide you with a bigger picture of your customer base. With that information, you can tailor marketing campaigns to target demographics you may have missed and increase awareness of your business through social media channels. We were particularly impressed with SocialSpot Wifi and its ability to send customizable emails to targeted groups of customers straight from the dashboard.
Security & Filtering: Stop Unwanted Activity
Most people who connect to your wireless hotspot won't use it for inappropriate activities, but it is essential to have some preventative measures in place. It's impossible to prevent everything that may happen on your network, but the best hotspot software will provide you a variety of options when it comes to security. Through a combination of blocking users, controlling bandwidth and filtering inappropriate content, you will be able to protect your network as much as possible. Through real-time monitoring, most companies allow you to see what individual users are doing and block abusers with the click of the mouse. While the best hotspot software will allow to do all of this, some companies offer different combinations of these features. As you control these aspects of your hotspot, you are able to ensure a safe and responsive environment for all of your users.
We were particularly impressed with Turnstyle's ability to set idle timeout limits for users that aren't doing anything on your network. With this software, the security controls are located on the front page of the dashboard, which makes them easy to access and use.
Customer Access: The Way Customers Connect Matters
During our evaluation, we focused on three types of customer access: social sign in, email access and paid access. You should expect each software to offer a free access option on the splash page, where customers only need to consent to the terms and services agreement in order to gain access to your Wi-Fi. However, the best software packages allow you to use different options for the way your customers access the internet. The way you choose to provide access can have a profound effect on the way you further your business. Social sign in requires customers to sign in with a social media profile, which in turn provides you with the public information on those profiles. Email access gives you the customers' email address. Both of these options give you more information to use during your marketing campaigns.
Because most customers expect free access to a Wi-Fi hotspot, the paid access option isn't as important as it once used to be. Hotspot software companies typically don't offer this as part of their services anymore because their clients have stopped charging for internet access at their venues. However, if you are looking to charge for hotspot services, Wifi-soft and HCSpot include secure credit card modules.
Help & Support: Phone Help Is Best
Setting up a hotspot should be beneficial to your business and easy to manage. These services are generally straightforward, so installation of both the software and hardware is simple and easy enough for you to do yourself, but if you get stuck, good customer support is essential.
All of the services on our lineup offer phone and email support, but only a few offer a live chat option on their websites. Overall, live chat with the companies that offer it was time consuming, and most of the chat representatives directed us to call by the end of the interaction. For this reason, we found phone support to be the most beneficial when you need in-depth problems resolved in the shortest amount of time. One exception was Wavespot; our interaction with its live chat agents was just as helpful as the support from phone representatives. Live chat was helpful for quick questions that didn't require immediate attention or a lot of explanation from either end of the interaction.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained access to most of the dashboards through trial versions, but we also purchased the software where needed. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Operating a business can be crazy enough without having to worry about managing an entire public hotspot on your own. Finding a service that fits your needs and budget is important, but we found it valuable when services made it simple to control what is happening on the network. Wavespot is noteworthy for its ability to control almost every aspect of your public hotspot and its easy-to-use interface. Social Spot Wifi gives you the ability to market to your customers directly from the software. Wifi-soft allows you a lot control over how customers connect to your network and even lets you monetize your hotspot by allowing you to accept credit cards for internet service. Each of these services gives you a way to reach out to your customers and offer them the Wi-Fi they expect without requiring a ton of effort and time on your part.