2018 WiFi Analytics Buyer’s Guide

WiFi Analytics is an exploding industry, full of opportunity and misinformation.  With any new technology, it’s easy for customers to feel confused about what they’re buying.  We’ve put together this buyer’s guide on what you need to consider when getting started with WiFi analytics.  Who’s On My WiFi has been creating WiFi analytics solutions since 2015 and we’ve listed what hardware, software, or web services you might consider.

WiFi Analytics is used to track the visitor activity at a physical location like a store or public park in order to improve those spaces.  Using information available to the WiFi network to collect this information instead of traditional counting systems like turnstiles offers more insight into the visitors and their usage.

There are 3 major components of a WiFi network that allow you to collect information about visitors.  This guide goes through the 3 ways to collect information, what hardware or software you might need to purchase, and what each component allows you to know about your visitors.

The 3 major components that can be monitored to know more about visitors are:

  • WiFi Usage
  • Foot Traffic
  • The Guest WiFi Splash Page

Analyzing WiFi Usage

Monitoring which devices and at what time visitors are using the guest WiFi network provides several benefits.  By analyzing this information, stats can be tracked to see how long visitors are using the WiFi network and how frequently they return to the space to use the WiFi.  You can also see peak network usage times, average busy hours, and more. Analyzing WiFi Usage is most beneficial when part of a location’s value to the public is as a place to sit and use the wifi like a coffee shop, library, or coworking space.

The first thing to consider when analyzing WiFi usage is how you are going to collect data. Free network scanning software is an easy way to gather basic information like device totals and dwell time. Saving that data for analysis is more complicated. Once network scans are completed the information needs to be sent to a database, either locally managed or as a service in the cloud. WhoFi can collect wifi usage data from multiple sources including router integrations, ARP scans, DHCP leases, and even SNMP Powershell scripts. Network engineers can also create their own database on a local server to collect and organize network scan information.

The easiest and most reliable way to collect network usage data is directly from the router or access point. Enterprise router companies can provide API access from their hardware to your analytics platform. However, the capacity of your access points to do this depends on the model and firmware version. Several companies offer this feature, including:

  • Aruba
  • Aerohive
  • Meraki
  • Ruckus
  • Cloudtrax
  • Sophos
  • But no specific hardware is needed

Remember, if you’re main WiFi Analytics goal is in monitoring WiFi usage, no special hardware is needed.  The router companies listed above make it easier since you won’t need a monitoring agent, but you can often monitor WiFi Usage on your network with no additional hardware required.

Analyzing Foot Traffic

By analyzing smartphones that are in use near a WiFi access point you can see foot traffic patterns, new vs return visitor usage, busy times of day, and areas where visitors congregate. Foot traffic is collected passively even if a device never connects to the WiFi network. This is most useful in public settings when visitors will not likely connect to the WiFi, for example in places like malls, retail stores, restaurants, and public parks.

Gathering this data is no simple task, and requires specialized hardware to collect and store passerby data.

AP Probe Requests

All devices with WiFi capability send out packets to find nearby access points. These packets are called AP Probe Requests, and devices like cell phones send them everywhere they go looking for WiFi to connect to. Access Points listen for Probe Requests so that they can connect devices to the WiFi network. If the software on an Access Point is set to store every AP Probe it receives, it can effectively pinpoint and track devices as they move around a space.

Smart Routers

Routers that store and track device information in relation to GPS data are called Smart Routers.  Tracking devices by location ideally require at least 3 routers that triangulate the position of client devices. To track passers-by your network equipment must:

  • Share information between routers, either through a cloud controller or local network controller
  • Use GPS information on each Access Point
  • Collect and store Probe Requests for tracking
  • Combine all of this information for real-time monitoring

If seeing foot traffic through your WiFi sounds like a feature you would like to use on your network, the equipment you install is very important. Look at industry leaders offering innovative enterprise network equipment.

  • Aruba
  • Aerohive
  • Meraki
  • Ruckus
  • And a few more

Analyzing the Guest WiFi Splash Page

For guest WiFi, there has been a push to have users see a splash page before joining the WiFi network.  Whether this is to see an Acceptable Use Policy or to have them log in to their social media account and like the businesses page, this trend has grown.

By further analyzing information provided during the splash page, location owners can learn a wide variety of information, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income Level
  • Member status with an organization
  • Other demographic information

Analyzing the Splash Page is the primary method of adding identity to which visitors are using the WiFi network.  This information is most useful in retail environments where re-marketing or demographic information is important.  By requiring a social media account to login users, you can associate a Facebook or Twitter profile with a MAC address and device history.

The specifics of splash page integration vary widely. The information that is shared depends on how the captive portal (splash page) is set up, and what information is requested. At its most basic level, a simple form can collect an email address and add that information to a local database. Professional captive portals and WiFi Analytics providers will often use social media API integrations to pull requested user information directly from their profiles.

What information can I request?

It is very important to be respectful of user privacy with any WiFi Analytics solution, but when collecting data from Splash Pages, one should be exceptionally careful.  Who’s On My WiFi always provides options for completely anonymizing all data collected, so that no information can be tied to an individual user. When you do choose to collect individual user data, it is the responsibility of the business to request no more information than what they need. Connecting to a social media API provides many permission options, including access to a user’s entire post history and permission to make status updates or profile changes. Blanket permissions are completely unnecessary for marketing data, and your captive portal settings should reflect that. Typically the marketing data needed is information like age, education, email address, and location.

Setting up a Captive Portal with a Splash Page

There are many options for setting up a captive portal with a Splash Page, as many enterprise routers have native splash pages that can be edited. Dedicated captive portal software and firmware can also be a great option for a custom approach, and WiFi Analytics companies often offer easily integrated splash pages that feed directly into your Analytics dashboard. The most important consideration when deciding to monitor a splash page is using an access point that supports the feature of a custom splash page. A few of these include:

  • Aruba
  • Aerohive
  • Meraki
  • Ruckus
  • Microtik
  • Ubiquity
  • Sophos
  • Engenius
  • OpenMesh
  • And many more

The most important consideration when deciding to monitor a splash page is using an access point that supports the feature of a custom splash page.  Make sure your network hardware company will easily integrate with the analytics provider that you’ve chosen, or that you can custom create your own local solution.

The WiFi Analytics Provider

No matter what data you gather from the hardware and software options listed above, analytics software or an analytics service is necessary to make a useful analysis of it.  The WiFi Analytics service or software is then used to collect all of the information, combine it, and analyze it to create a more complete picture of how your visitors use your space.

There are several WiFi Analytics solutions out there.  Some are on-premise or custom solutions.  There are also several cloud-based providers of this information as well.  Who’s On My WiFi is one of the cloud-based WiFi Analytics solutions available.

Choosing your hardware

It can be difficult to prioritize advantages of different hardware companies and settle on one solution for your network.  However, if WiFi Analytics and visitor intelligence is important to you, then we’d recommend starting your search with some of the router companies listed above.  See who you can work with and who best understands what your network needs are. You’ll probably notice a strong leader in your industry that fits your network needs. Hopefully, with the help of this guide, you are now ready to make an informed hardware or software decision to have all of the pieces ready to utilize WiFi analytics.

Ready to make the jump? Schedule a demo to get your WiFi Analytics launched.