Access to free Wi-Fi networks was once something you’d expect to find only in airports and coffee shops. However, as our day-to-day lives and operations become increasingly dependent on broadband internet connections, the need for reliable mobile technology has increased immensely.
Whether setting up a new business Wi-Fi network or making some long-overdue updates to your existing system, it’s crucial to ensure you know how to set it up properly to protect your data and keep your users happy.
How to set up a Wi-Fi network for your business
Setting up a Wi-Fi network for your business is fairly straightforward. You need a broadband business internet connection, hardware and a way to manage network security.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to get your small business Wi-Fi service up and running quickly.
1. Choose a Wi-Fi service provider.
Searching for the best Wi-Fi service provider for your network begins with determining which wireless internet access providers can service your premises.
A location-based search online should provide you with a list of candidates. All major telecommunications companies – such as Verizon, AT&T and Spectrum – have competitive products and services that largely differ by market and the size of your business.
If you’re signing up for a new business broadband service plan, pay close attention to the vendor’s available internet speeds, pricing, contract terms and security measures.
If you already have cable internet, satellite internet or fiber-optic internet, the next step is purchasing the right equipment.
When setting up Wi-Fi for your business, choosing the right type of business internet service is crucial. Ensure your connection is fast enough, has sufficient bandwidth and offers near 100 percent uptime.
2. Purchase the right equipment.
You need an Ethernet cable to connect your PC to your business internet provider. If you want co-workers and visitors to be able to access your connection, you’ll need a wireless router.
Be aware that a wireless network connection is inherently slower than a wired connection. The signal is prone to interference or degradation over distance and through your building’s windows, walls and doors. If your premises are large, you can improve signal strength and expand the coverage area by investing in a few Wi-Fi repeaters or extenders.
You may be able to lease or purchase preconfigured equipment from your internet service provider. This is the most practical option for small businesses wanting to offer wireless access that don’t have in-house dedicated IT staff.
If you’d prefer to set up your Wi-Fi connection, you’ll need to understand specific terms and details, including radio bands, wireless protocols and other features.
The best Wi-Fi adapters feature at least two radio bands:
- 2.4GHz: This lower frequency can travel through walls and other signal obstructions well, making it the better option for longer ranges. However, it’s more prone to network congestion because it’s the frequency that most wireless access points and devices use.
- 5GHz: This higher frequency does not penetrate materials particularly well but does transfer data at much higher speeds. If your premises are relatively open-plan and free of objects and barriers that can block the signal, this may be better for handling more demanding devices and tasks. It also copes better with a higher number of Wi-Fi devices linking to it.
You also need to consider the range of wireless protocols.
Wireless networks use various 802.11 protocol standards (ax, ac, n, g, a, and b) to send and receive data through different frequencies with different speeds and limitations. The latest standard is IEEE 802.11ax, released in 2021. This standard:
- Offers high speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps and dual-band capabilities on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands
- Is backward compatible with previous Wi-Fi technologies
- Employs OFDMA technology to better support multiple devices on the network
- Incorporates MIMO technology capable of sending and receiving up to eight independent Wi-Fi signal streams through multiple antennas
If you’re purchasing a router for a small or midsize business, 802.11ax offers all the performance and features you’ll need; this is the protocol technical experts recommend the most.
Other useful features to consider when shopping for your business Wi-Fi router include wired LAN inputs, USB ports, removable antennas, guest-network functionality and quality of service (QoS) options that allow you to prioritize competing devices as you see fit.
The adoption of a third radio band frequency, 6GHz, is increasing. It transmits data at a faster speed than 5GHz with less signal interference. However, it suffers from the same problem with walls and objects as 5GHz Wi-Fi.
3. Consider managed networks.
Customers always appreciate accessible Wi-Fi. However, without proper security measures, you may inadvertently put them at a greater risk of data theft and manipulation. Cybersecurity is complicated, and many businesses struggle with it. For this reason, it is advised to opt for a business Wi-Fi provider that offers cloud-based managed network services.
Beyond offering robust cybersecurity solutions for SMB customers, managed network providers also help with critical tasks like network monitoring, data management and installing software patches. They have the technological expertise and dedicated resources to let you focus on your strategic goals with peace of mind about your network’s performance and security.
Business Wi-Fi best practices
Regardless of the size of your business or the number of devices using your Wi-Fi service, everyone should follow several best practices.
Business security practices extend to your Wi-Fi network. Pay close attention to the following:
- Change the SSID. During network setup with a new router, you should always change the name of the default service set identifier, or SSID. SSIDs are the names you see broadcasting when you attempt to connect to a new network in a densely populated area. The default name could provide hackers with valuable information about your identity and your network hardware.
- Encrypt your Wi-Fi network. You should also encrypt your network with Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) or better.
- Create a strong password. Weak passwords are also an area of vulnerability – something guessable like “Companyname2023!” won’t be secure enough. When creating a password, use a combination of symbols, numbers, and lowercase and uppercase letters. The more unpredictable your password, the stronger it is and the less likely it is to be breached.
As you allow more users and devices to connect to your network, keep an eye on its overall performance. If you notice performance issues, consider the following steps:
- Assign separate radio bands. If your network performance is struggling, consider assigning separate radio bands to different types of wireless devices. For example, you could use the 2.4GHz band as your guest access point and connect to your office printers and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This would completely free up your 5GHz band so that you and your co-workers have faster access and a more stable VoIP connection.
- Test your network range. You could also test the range of your network and try switching from 5GHz to 2.4GHz as you move away from your router.
- Consider a wireless range extender. If you’re not getting a strong internet connection in certain areas of the office on one or both frequencies, consider installing a wireless range extender. For the best performance, pair a Wi-Fi range extender with a Wi-Fi router from the same manufacturer. However, most extenders can provide only about 50 percent of your router’s speed.
If you intend to offer guests access to your Wi-Fi network, you can set up a specific customer landing page.
Use the landing page to promote your special offers and showcase your brand, products and services. This is also a great opportunity to ask them to join your email marketing newsletter list.
To limit access only to paying customers, email them the Wi-Fi network name and password or add your login details to your receipts. Remember to update your password regularly. These measures boost security while limiting access and ensuring paying customers get the best performance online.
If you intend to offer guest Wi-Fi and collect customers’ details, especially payment data, run a cybersecurity risk assessment first to ensure maximum security and protect your business from a data breach.