The increasing popularity of wireless hotspots has been driven by a demand for businesses such as hotels, restaurants, public houses and coffee shops to provide their customers with on-demand Internet access. There are plenty of solutions on the market but the majority of these are aimed are larger companies with in-house IT support. Smaller businesses that want to charge for these facilities aren’t so lucky as there are very few solutions that specifically target these users.
SMC’s Wireless Hotspot package was one of the first to market last year and impressed us with its ease of use. Now ZyXEL has jumped on the bandwagon with its G-4100 which delivers a single boxed kit solution complete with access point and ticket printer. Price-wise, the ZyXEL option is slightly more costly than SMC’s so is it worth the extra outlay?
If you want your customers to know you have wireless services then ZyXEL is definitely the one to go for as the chunky access point (AP) with its big blue pulsing emblem will look a lot more obvious when it’s mounted on the wall. It comes equipped with four standard switched Fast Ethernet ports and the Ethernet WAN port means you’ll need a suitable external modem to front the Internet connection. Choose SMC if you want multiple Internet connections with failover and load balancing as its AP supports up to four ADSL or cable modems. Note also that unlike SMC the G-4100 only offers NAT protection and does not include an SPI firewall.
Installation is easy enough as a wizard is provided which steps deftly though setting up Internet access, the wireless AP, email redirection, billing and accounting. The kit includes a thermal printer which uses standard thermal till rolls and comes with a four metre cable so it can be positioned some distance from the AP. If you want to dish out wireless access without using a PC the buttons on its front panel offer a simple means of providing three different periods of billed access. However, the printer also has a PS/2 port which accepts an optional keypad if you want more buttons at your disposal.
The web interface is easy enough to use and when it comes to setting up billing you’ll quickly see how many features are provided. Authentication comes first and you can disable it if you’re the generous sort, use the AP’s internal user database or employ external primary and secondary RADIUS servers instead. For billing you choose the currency and the units along with their airtime value in hours and minutes. If you’re just using the printer you press the button that corresponds with the time they’ve purchased and it’ll print a ticket with a predefined username and password, the allotted time and the period they have to activate the account before it times out.