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Captive Wi-Fi or a Captive Portal – it can come under many names but essentially for the end-user it is an Internet Hotspot or wi-fi access point where you can access the internet by doing as little as accepting terms of use, or as much as filling in a lengthy form.


Generally, a web page or splash screen is 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 Wi-Fi connections, like those you find in restaurants, cafes, airport lounges, and hotels.

Gatekeepers as such, most manufacturers are now using them as entry points to, in some way, protect their network connections. Customers simply select the applicable Wi-Fi network (as they would connecting at home), log-in or add their details via a web page or splash screen to gain access to the internet as they go about enjoying their favourite brands and venues and engage in a more powerful experience. You don’t have to go far to see two major experiential brands using Captive Wi-Fi – ANZ Stadium and Etihad Stadium being top of mind.

How do 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 Wi-Fi 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 recognises the URL and allows for full access to the internet. But if the OS detects a different URL, it recognises 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 customise level to customer’s needs.

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

Typical user experience:

this is an example of a customer journey

What are the benefits of Captive Portals?

  • Stop Bandwidth Hoggers Users can hog bandwidth when on the network and slow your system if you’re not careful. To combat this, businesses can create a customized plan that places restrictions on things like the number and size of files they can download per session;
  • User Data = Customer Insights – Not only can you track the online activity of your customers but you can ask for data before they even access your Captive Wi-Fi. This enables 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. Take a look at the data captured from a Justin Bieber concert;
  • Generate Revenue – Captive portals can provide a direct means of generating revenue. For example, some businesses have their online quests 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 Wi-Fi 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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Joshua Lawson

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