hotspot business

How to launch hotspot business and make money (hardware, software, budget)

June 17, 2024

Guides like How to share WiFi on Windows 11 or set up WiFi Hotspot on your Android, iPhone, or Mac are popular and useful when you look for a reliable internet connection. But what about the business side of hosting a hotspot? Pros, cons, pitfalls? Let’s find out!

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to find WiFi when you’re out and about? Have you ever considered turning this common inconvenience into a profitable business opportunity? If so, you’ve come to the right place. This article can help you painlessly figure out the requirements for your WiFi hotspot service. Learn how to set it up, manage it properly, and optimize it for your customers’ needs and security. The focus will be on utilizing MikroTik equipment and Powerlynx possibilities. This combination offers a versatile solution to start and manage a high-quality Wi-Fi hotspot service.

WiFi Hotspot Market 2024-2032

The global Wi-Fi hotspot market reached approximately USD 5.6 billion in 2023 and should increase at a CAGR of 16.2% from 2024 to 2032, reaching around USD 22.5 billion by 2032 (according to an IMARC Reports study). Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi Alliance estimates that the global economic value of Wi-Fi is more than $3.5 trillion. They also predict it will reach nearly $5 trillion by 2025.

Global WiFi Hotspot Market

Key factors driving growth include the increasing deployment of smart infrastructure systems, the rising utilization of 5G networks, and growing smartphone sales.

So, hotspots are a lucrative opportunity for ISPs, businesses, and communities to offer internet access to their customers or residents. In strategic locations, Wi-Fi can attract more customers, improve customer satisfaction, and generate additional revenue streams. Each can succeed uniquely, depending on the specific model and approach. These methods align with their particular goals and objectives.

Use the advantages of WiFi Hotspot

Whether it’s enhancing service delivery for ISPs, increasing customer dwell time and spending for businesses, or improving city community services and engagement. Let’s focus more concisely on the main advantages for each group.

ISPs: Internet service providers are expanding their business by deploying public Wi-Fi hotspots in recreational and non-traditional locations. Consequently, this strategy helps them reach a broader audience, including occasional (transient) users. Additionally, it increases their visibility and allows them to monetize new revenue streams. They can achieve this through direct charges for access, tiered services, or partnerships with local businesses.

Businesses: Free Wi-Fi attracts more clients to businesses, encouraging them to stay longer and spend more. So, retail locations like cafés and bookstores fill seats with this service. Hospitality venues often make Wi-Fi a competitive advantage. Moreover, businesses can use Wi-Fi login pages as an advertising platform to promote their services or events. They can also generate revenue through paid access options after free periods, premium speeds, or regular customer subscriptions.

Communities: Community centers and public institutions offer free Wi-Fi to strengthen ties and serve residents in areas with limited internet access. This, in turn, supports digital literacy and fosters entrepreneurship, enabling residents to start as WISPs and stimulate local economic development through increased online access.

Most illustrative cases

Here are a few illustrative cases demonstrating the benefits of hosting Wi-Fi hotspots across ISPs, businesses, and local communities.

Advantages of WiFi Hotspot

ISPs: Expanding Internet Access in Rural and Low-Income Areas

  • Google Loon was a project that provided internet access in rural and remote areas using high-altitude balloons as Wi-Fi hotspots. Though the project has since been discontinued, it proved that innovative technologies can expand ISP coverage into areas lacking traditional infrastructure. ISPs can take inspiration from such projects to explore unconventional methods to extend their reach and enhance connectivity in underserved regions.
  • Comcast’s Xfinity WiFi is a comprehensive example of an ISP leveraging Wi-Fi hotspots to enhance service offerings. They have established millions of hotspots across the United States, providing customers with internet access at no extra cost when away from home. This extensive network allows Xfinity to offer widespread internet access, significantly enhancing customer satisfaction and retention. It is also a differentiator in a competitive market, making their broadband packages more attractive.

Businesses: Coffee Shops and Hospitality Enhancing Customer Experience

  • Starbucks was one of the early adopters of free Wi-Fi in their coffee shops, understanding that the value of offering free Internet access would encourage customers to stay longer and potentially purchase more products. The initiative increased foot traffic and helped Starbucks cement its reputation as a ‘third place’ between home and work where customers could relax and be productive.
  • McDonald’s began offering free Wi-Fi in its restaurants in 2010, becoming one of the largest providers of free Wi-Fi in the U.S. This move has transformed the dining experience, encouraging customers to spend more time and often more money. The availability of Wi-Fi attracts a diverse range of customers, from students who study there for hours to professionals using the space for meetings. This strategy has not only increased sales but has also enhanced McDonald’s reputation as a community-friendly business.
  • Durban’s Beaches. The famous Durban beachfront recently announced an expansion of its free Wi-Fi network. This project involves the eThekwini Municipality partnering with a local internet service provider to extend Wi-Fi coverage along the beachfront promenade. This collaboration aims to boost tourism and provide free internet access for residents and visitors. The eThekwini Municipality is home to 3.5 million people and is South Africa’s second-largest economy after Johannesburg.

Internet Users Growth in South Africa

Local Communities: Boosting Local Economy and Accessibility

  • SA Connect. The South African government is accelerating a program to connect citizens to the internet, mainly targeting 1.5 million households in rural and township areas with Wi-Fi hotspots. This effort, part of the SA Connect initiative, aims to make internet access affordable and widely available, even offering rates as low as R5 a day for 1 Gig of data. The program also involves local collaboration, providing thousands of direct and indirect jobs through partnerships with numerous Internet Service Providers (ISPs), primarily small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs). Additionally, this initiative extends to educational support, with smart schools equipped with internet and digital skills training in various provinces.
  • Gauteng’s Project Isizwe. This public-private partnership provides free Wi-Fi in underserved communities across Gauteng province of South Africa. The project combines government funding with private sector expertise to improve digital literacy and bridge the digital divide.
  • LinkNYC is an innovative public Wi-Fi project replacing payphones in New York City with Wi-Fi kiosks called Links (for today, 2125 Active Links on the map). These kiosks provide free high-speed Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, and access to city services, maps, and directions. Since 2022, CityBridge (LinkNYC owner) has also installed 32-foot-tall (9.8 m) poles under the Link5G brand, providing Wi-Fi and 5G service. It offers essential services to tourists and residents and supports local businesses by improving connectivity and accessibility, thus enriching the community’s economic and social fabric.

Each of these cases represents a best practice scenario where Wi-Fi hotspots have been used to fulfill specific strategic goals — enhancing service delivery for ISPs, increasing customer dwell time and spending for businesses, and improving community services and engagement for cities. These examples also show the scalability of Wi-Fi initiatives from local to national implementations.

What should you consider before launching a hotspot?

Launching Wi-Fi hotspot services can be a game-changer for ISPs, businesses, and local communities, providing enhanced connectivity, new revenue streams, and improved customer satisfaction. But at the same time, it’s not a walk in the park.

It’s essential to define your business objectives clearly. Are you looking to expand your market reach, generate new revenue, or enhance customer retention? For ISPs, like Comcast, deploying millions of Xfinity WiFi hotspots has significantly expanded their customer base and improved customer satisfaction by providing seamless connectivity outside the home.

Main steps for starting a WiFi hotspot

Next, analyze your target market using demographic data and internet usage patterns. Urban areas with high foot traffic, tourist spots, and public spaces like parks and libraries are prime locations. Picture a bustling city square where tourists and locals can connect to a reliable internet service. This would make life easier for them and place your service at the heart of community activity.

Selecting the right location is crucial. Use data analytics to identify prime spots where demand is high. Ensure these locations have the necessary infrastructure, including stable power supply and robust backhaul connectivity. Security is also paramount; choosing well-monitored, high-visibility locations helps protect your equipment and users.

Finally, decide on your business model. You might offer a freemium service, where basic access is free, but users can pay for premium options. Alternatively, an advertising model can subsidize costs by displaying ads, similar to how free apps operate. Subscription models with flexible plans cater to different user needs, ensuring a steady revenue stream.

There are several other essential points to consider

For ISPs, the goal often extends beyond simple connectivity. It’s about leveraging advanced market analytics to identify underserved areas with high potential for new customer acquisition. By integrating hotspot services with existing broadband packages, ISPs can provide seamless internet experiences, enhancing customer loyalty and product portfolio.

Business Side of Hosting a Hotspot

For Businesses, WiFi hotspot can be a powerful tool to enhance the customer experience. Think about a cafe where free, reliable Wi-Fi encourages customers to stay longer and enjoy more of your products. Starbucks has mastered this, creating an inviting environment that attracts a diverse customer base. Utilizing data analytics from Wi-Fi usage helps businesses understand customer behavior, enabling targeted marketing and personalized offers. Imagine running a retail store where customers can use free Wi-Fi to compare products online, read reviews, and make informed purchasing decisions. This would enhance their shopping experience and increase their likelihood of purchasing.

Communities, particularly underserved areas, can leverage Wi-Fi hotspots to bridge the digital divide, supporting education and economic opportunities, as seen with Think WiFi in South Africa. Public-private partnerships can be key here. Collaborating with private companies to fund and maintain these networks ensures sustainability and broad access. Community engagement is another critical benefit. Wi-Fi hotspots can be used to run digital literacy programs, provide online public services, and host local events. This improves the quality of life and fosters a stronger, more connected community. Here is a real-case example of hotspot deployment in one of Johannesburg’s (South Africa) schools as part of an educational initiative by Project Isizwe.

Figuring the Costs for HotSpot Business Starters

If you’re considering launching a WISP business, start with a regulatory and compliance checklist. Ensure compliance with GDPR or similar data privacy regulations, particularly when collecting or monitoring user data. Additionally, verify the necessity for telecommunications licenses or permits in specific regions.

Launch WiFi Hotspot Costs

Sometimes, users think they are paying for air because all the provider does is control the transmission of packages. However, in fact, the entire support and the resources that make the whole system work are on their shoulders: technicians, cables, routers, and other network equipment and software. This infrastructure ensures that users experience no discomfort and enjoy a stable internet connection, which involves various costs from equipment purchases to operational expenses.

Equipment Set

Lastly, when setting up your Wi-Fi hotspot service, to minimize future costs, opt for network equipment from reliable and proven brands. For instance, MikroTik routers and Cambium for wireless and fiber access are cost-effective options, ranging from $100-$500 per unit. Choose devices with dual, tri, and quad-band capabilities and the latest Wi-Fi standards, such as Wi-Fi 6, which offers higher throughput than its predecessors. However, be cautious with 802.11ax routers as they tend to overheat in high-temperature environments. Additionally, features like MU-MIMO are advisable for efficiently handling multiple users.

Wi-Fi Hotspot increased throughput


Next, you’ll need PoE (Power over Ethernet) switches to simplify the setup (power and data connectivity through a single cable). You can expect to spend between $50 to $300 on switches. Remember the cabling and mounting hardware; high-quality Cat6 or Cat7 cables and secure mounting hardware ensure your setup is stable and durable, costing around $100 to $200. Last but not least, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is essential to keep your network running during power outages (add another $100 to $300 to your budget).

Start with scalable, modular hardware to adapt to increasing demand. If planning to cover extensive areas, conduct location studies, prioritizing visible rooftop placements while avoiding signal blockages by trees and walls. Consider using a few access points and Wi-Fi antennas to ensure neighborhood coverage.

Opt for WiFi extenders instead of WiFi repeaters, which can introduce latency and degrade signal quality. These devices connect directly to your router via cable, creating a stable, new network without the typical wireless interference. Prepare to establish backbone links to distribute internet effectively across multiple hotspot locations.

Other Costs

When starting your hotspot service, you’ll encounter initial and ongoing costs. The initial setup costs may vary depending on the complexity of your installation. You’ll also need to secure necessary licenses or permits depending on your location.

Once your network is up and running, ongoing costs kick in. Monthly internet service fees, depending on your provider and the speed of service required. Regular maintenance is crucial to keep your network performing optimally. Additionally, managing your network remotely with cloud-based software like Powerlynx is efficient and cost-effective, with subscriptions starting from $25 per month for an entry-level plan that covers up to 110 simultaneous online users.

Launching a Wi-Fi hotspot service can be pricey, but the rewards typically outweigh the expenses.

Minimizing Expenses

To keep costs manageable, consider leveraging cloud management solutions like Powerlynx. This ready-to-use solution for Wi-Fi hotspot management includes built-in billing and a dedicated AD module, among other necessary tools for easily handling multiple locations from a single dashboard.

This approach reduces the need for expensive on-site infrastructure and extensive technical expertise. Pay-as-you-go cloud services help manage initial costs and allow for incremental investments. Energy efficiency is another crucial factor. Invest in energy-efficient hardware and consider renewable energy options like solar-powered solutions for outdoor hotspots to cut down on ongoing electricity costs. Forming partnerships can also significantly reduce expenses. Collaborate with local businesses to share costs; for example, they can sponsor free Wi-Fi in exchange for advertising opportunities. Additionally, seek government grants and subsidies to improve digital infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas.

For example, Tshwane Free WiFi, Project Isizwe’s flagship project, deployed more than 1050 public WiFi hotspots across the City of Tshwane, providing each citizen with 500 MB of free WiFi daily. This initiative, a collaboration with the local municipality, stands as one of Africa’s largest accessible WiFi networks, demonstrating a successful model for bridging the digital divide and highlighting the benefits of free internet access. WiCAN WiFi, another initiative by Project Isizwe utilizing Powerlynx, offers R5 (0.3 USD) a day of uncapped WiFi in local communities. Numerous local stores and public spaces have become access points for this WiFi service, where community members can purchase vouchers or pay through a captive portal to connect to the internet.

Introduction to PowerLynx: Features and Benefits for Hotspot Management

Why does Powerlynx stand out

Powerlynx is a cloud-based platform from the Splynx team, a leader in ISP billing and network management. It boasts over eight years of expertise and is trusted by over 900 WISPs worldwide. It stands out with its approach that providing connectivity shouldn’t be complex and is designed to align with the needs of ISPs and businesses.

PowerLynx Key Features

For now, PowerLynx offers the following benefits and possibilities for instantly deploying, maintaining, and monetizing Wi-Fi hotspots:

  • Cloud-based. A single, centralized platform to manage all Wi-Fi hotspots manage Wi-Fi across multiple locations from a single centralized hub. Without costly server infrastructure or technical expertise.
  • Hardware-agnostic. PowerLynx works with Mikrotik and Cambium devices and accommodates other devices supporting the RADIUS protocol.
  • Effortless setup & use. It is designed for out-of-the-box quick and easy set-up, enabling users to configure and go live with their WiFi services within just one day.
  • Affordability. Сost-effective WiFi management approach with flexible subscription plans (pricing is determined by the number of active online users, not routers or access points).
  • Fully customizable. A full suite of management and billing features, including creating custom plans, managing bandwidth, controlling traffic, and generating detailed analytics.
  • Monetization with Ads. Built-in dedicated AD module to boost hotspot monetization by showing users video and image ads before connecting to the Wi-Fi.
  • Captive portal that businesses can customize with their branding, making the login page familiar to users.
  • Integration with various payment gateways and the support of printed vouchers simplifies how users pay for access.

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