There are many solutions out there to create and manage Wi-Fi hotspots you can use to give your visitors wireless Internet access. Wireless hotspot gateways can provide hotspot functionality out-of-the-box. LiveCD solutions, like ZoneCD, can be used in conjunction with a PC and wireless router. Another solution is to load a wireless router with special software and sign up for a service that provides the hotspot functionality. We’re going to look at three such services.
The Worldspot.net service helps you create and manage free and fee-based hotspots. When implementing free hotspots, you can’t define any conditional access and your hotspot is limited to 30 maximum simultaneous connections. If you want to charge for hotspot access, you can accept online payments from hotspot users with credit cards via PayPal. It is fully automated, so users can make payments and get access without interacting with you.
You can use the Worldspot.net service with pretty much any wireless router or PC that has the open source captive portal software Chillispot installed. You should install the after-market firmware CoovaAP on a compatible router, or the DD-WRT firmware as an alternative.
For a fee-based hotspot, you can either do revenue sharing with Worldspot.net, where it keeps 25 percent of the hotspot revenue, or pay a subscription fee to keep 100 percent of the revenue. Either way, you can choose your own prices. Plus there’s no waiting; you’ll instantly receive your portion to your PayPal account.
Worldspot.net lets you create a fully customizable hotspot portal page with image and Flash uploads. It also supports customizable ticket printing, so you can hand out access codes free or take manual payment. The ticket printing requires a monthly fee for unlimited usage or can be based on usage.
You can create multiple access profiles for your visitors with varying prices. Attributes that you can assign to the profiles include:
- Limitation reset time
- Expiration time
- Total connection time allowed
- Total upload volume allowed
- Total download volume allowed
- Total upload+download volume allowed
- Maximum upload rate
- Maximum download rate
The Worldspot.net service also supports management of multiple hotspots. For example, you can view connection history for all hotspots, access profiles can be applied to multiple hotspots, and users can roam among the multiple hotspots.
To get started, you’ll first want to round up a router compatible, preferably with CoovaAP firmware, or DD-WRT as an alternative. Then you’ll have to the load the firmware onto the router using the CoovaAP or DD-WRT instructions. You can also purchase and use an OpenMesh router with the WorldSpot.net service. Next, you’ll need to register with WorldSpot.net and create a hotspot account. Then you can follow the WorldSpot.net configuration instructions to configure the router as a hotspot. Finally, you can set your hotspot settings by logging into your WorldSpot.net account.
You can setup a free or fee-based hotspot with HotSpotSystem. When offering free access, you can give users access after accepting the terms of service, which is provided free to you as well. If you want to require users to get an access voucher before getting the free hotspot access, you’ll have to sign-up for a monthly subscription with HotSpotSystem.
If you want to charge users for hotspot access, you can sign up for the Hotspot Pro service, which requires revenue sharing with HotSpotSystem. You receive 70 to 80 percent of the hotspot revenue, with monthly payouts via wire transfer, Payoneer MasterCard, or PayPal. Like with Worldspot.net, users can make online payments after connecting to the hotspot.
You can use the HotSpotSystem service with wireless routers or PCs that have the open source captive portal software Chillispot or CoovaAP installed. This includes compatible routers loaded with the DD-WRT, CoovaAP, or OpenWRT firmware. Supported vendors also include Mikrotik routers and routerboards, Icomera fixed and mobile cellular routers, and Open-Mesh routers. You can also use any router that supports external RADIUS authentication and AAA.
For fee-based access, you can set an expiration time (1 hour, 24 hours, 1 month, etc.) and bandwidth or traffic limits. You can set your own varying prices as well. The hotspot splash or portal pages are customizable and you can replace the HotSpotSystem branding with your own.
The hotspot management features let you view and edit multiple hotspots from your single HotSpotSystem account. You can see real-time transaction reports, search usage logs, and create reports.
The WirelessOrbit service can also be used to create free or fee-based hotspots accepting online payments. Like the other services, you can customize your captive portal login pages. You can limit hotspot usage by session time, calendar time, number of logins, and bandwidth limits. WirelessOrbit provides logging and reporting for hotspot usage and billing information.
The pricing is based on the number of wireless gateways you use, number of user accounts, and the monthly number of login sessions. The lowest level has a $25 signup fee with no monthly fee, which gives you up to 3 gateways, 100 accounts, and 1,000 hotspot sessions per month. However, this basic level doesn’t include the following features: trouble ticket interface, remote system monitoring, priority customer support, and no Wireless Orbit banner in login portal.
Like with the other services, you can use firmware replacements like CoovaAP or DD-WRT. However, WirelessOrbit also supports gateways from other vendors, such as D-Link, Handlink, Orinoco, ValuePoint, and ZyXEL.