Captive Portal: An Introduction

A captive portal is a web page or splash screen displayed before users can access the Internet, apps, or services using a desktop computer or mobile device. Often, captive portals display as login interfaces to guest WiFi connections, like those you find in restaurants, cafes, airport lounges, and hotel business centers.

WiFi captive portal

Captive portals serve as gatekeepers to guest WiFi connections. Most manufacturers are now using them as entry points for their network connections. With customers simply logging in the organization’s bricks-and-mortar stores, as entry points for their guest WiFi connections. Customers simply log-in to gain access to the internet as they enjoy their favourite brands and the individual ambiance associated with each of these venues.

As a result, these portals are helping venues compete in a new environment fostered by wireless technology

How Captive Portals Work

The captive portal’s automatic detection system is based on a simple verification feature of a client device (smartphones, laptops, tablets, and so on). When a guest WiFi connection is activated, the network’s operating system (OS) tries to reach a specific URL and verify that the URL returns a known result.

If there’s no captive portal in place, the OS recognizes the URL and allows for full access to the internet. But if the OS detects a different URL, it recognizes that there is a captive portal in place and that authentication must take place for the user to gain full access to the Internet.

At that point, the OS automatically opens up a splash page for authentication to take place. The URL may vary depending on the specific model of the mobile device. Regardless, all devices use the strategy described above to find out if they’re behind a captive portal.

To take advantage of a captive portal, a business needs to create a solution that satisfies the following requirements:

  • An easy to use, user interface
  • Capability of gathering information
  • Content delivery mechanism
  • Seamless integration with a back-end data store
  • Ability to customize level to customer’s needs

Once you have these elements in place, you can create and use a captive portal to your advantage.

Benefits of Captive Portals

  • Help prevent lawsuits — Many businesses add an Accepted Usage Policy (AUP) to their captive portals. Customers must agree to the AUP if they want access to your WiFi connection. The AUP relieves you of liability if a user falls victim to illegal activity on your WiFi connection.
  • Stops users from hogging bandwidth— sers can hog bandwidth when on the network and slow your system if you’re not careful. To prevent this, businesses often create a customized plan that places restrictions on things like the number and size of files they can download per session.
  • Lets you collect data on customers — Captive portals let you track the online activity of customers using the WiFi network. Enabling you to decipher their interests, and help paint a clearer picture of your captive audience and venues demographic makeup, so you can plan your marketing campaigns.
  • Generates revenue — Captive portals can provide a direct means of generating revenue. Some businesses, for example, have guests pay for their usage, when they log-in or use the portal as a billboard and sell ad space to other companies.
  • Protect customers privacy — Hackers can exploit the security vulnerabilities of guest WiFi connections by setting up a fake wireless networks. Customers access their networks instead of yours. It’s called phishing. And it’s deadly.

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