You know that box that you switch off and back on again when your WiFi starts playing up at home… well that’s not an AP, that’s a router. An AP, otherwise known as an access point, connects to that box allowing you to extend the range of your WiFi to a particular location.

Let’s imagine you live in a massive house and your router is located in the east wing. Extravagant, I know, but necessary for the purpose of this example. Anyway, here in the east wing the router provides a strong WiFi connection. In the west wing however, connection is poor and somewhat non-existent. So, what do we do? We install an AP in the west wing and connect this to the router in the east wing via an ethernet cable. Hey presto, we now also have a strong connection in the west wing.

Although used in the home, APs are more commonly used by businesses that occupy large public spaces i.e. hotels, offices, cafes, restaurants, train stations, airports… you get the idea. More often than not businesses will use multiple APs to ensure a strong and consistent connection across all areas for their customers. The use of one or more APs in a single location is known as a hubspot.

In the physical, APs are nothing special. They’re a small, fairly insignificant piece of hardware, not too dissimilar from your typical router. What they do, however, is considerably more interesting.

Their ability to act as a central transmitter and receiver of wireless signals allows us, our friends, families, and colleagues to connect to the internet instantly and wirelessly almost anywhere.

Remember dial up… We’ve come a long way since then.

So, why should businesses invest in APs and what are the benefits?

Offering widespread wireless internet access for customers opens doors. A restaurant or café may benefit from customers staying longer; potentially purchasing more items. A hotel may benefit from increased bookings; we all know free WiFi is up there with some of the main deciding factors when choosing a place to stay.

It doesn’t stop there. This is where APs start to get interesting.

Our burning desire to search for and connect to public WiFi networks everywhere we go presents an opportunity for businesses to gain valuable insight and data around customers and how they interact within their physical spaces.

Think about the last time you visited an airport. Did you connect to their WiFi network? Did you enter your details and agree to their terms in order to do so? I guessed as much. Imagine how many others did this as well. Airports are big places. That’s lots of people and lots of data.

Every time a customer connects to WiFi through an AP, the AP starts to collect data on the device that has connected to it. How? Let me tell you. APs collect data through applying an identification code to the device known as a MAC address. Using the MAC address, the device (and therefore the customer) can be tracked. This allows businesses to see what device the customer is using and how they are interacting within the space.

Footfall, passers-by, dwell times, bounce rates and return visits can all be tracked through the MAC address, and by monitoring the connection to the internet businesses can also capture the websites that the MAC address visits, giving insight into customer interests.

What’s more, businesses can add a social media login page to not only provide a frustration-free way for customers to access the WiFi, but to collect contact information and begin to build detailed customer profiles.

With the right cloud software enabled over the existing WiFi network businesses can access this wealth of rich WiFi analytics with ease and use it to develop targeted, real time marketing campaigns to improve ROI. For example, a restaurant may use the data to send a 2-4-1 cocktails offer via email or SMS to a customer passing by, or a clothing store may use the data to send a 10% off voucher to a customer following a recent purchase to encourage a repeat visit.

This highly targeted marketing not only has significant benefits for businesses, but it also works towards creating an outstanding customer experience; the ultimate aim of any successful marketing strategy.