Get Your Guest Wifi Set Up Right For The Holidays

November 21, 2022

With the Holiday season around the corner, travel predictions are at record levels. If your plans include hosting family and friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can be sure they’ll be bringing their devices with them — smart phones, gaming systems, tablets and laptops. And they’ll be expecting to connect to your Wifi. And why not? It’s a great way to entertain, share photos and videos and connect with others outside your home.

But there are right ways and ‘not so right’ ways of providing your guests with connectivity. Security of your home network and integration of your smart home devices should always be the first priority. Call me paranoid but better safe than sorry. There’s a lot of responsibility riding on your network — internet access, work from home connectivity, smart home device operations, etc. You should always consider anything connecting to your network a potential threat until you can verify that it’s not.

You might wonder why your friends and family may be threats to your network, and they probably aren’t. But a single negative incident will have you thinking otherwise. And ultimately, there’s usually no reason for your guests to be on the same network as your smart home gear, file server, security cameras or anything else.

That’s why I’m a big fan of home guest networks. It’s the safest way to segregate unverified connections from the vetted connections you rely on every day. And most, if not all, routers these days have a guest network option. Guest networks are a great Wifi router feature, but if you’re using a guest network in your home, be sure you’re using it safely and effectively.

It’d be tough to cover every variation of settings, or lack of, on a particular router, but I’ll go over settings and concepts you should be aware of. Whether you access your router interface through a smartphone app or using a web browser on your PC, be sure to look up your particular router model and review what settings and options are available. Another helpful tip would be to familiarize yourself with what terms your router’s manufacturer uses for the concepts outlined here.

And if you find that your particular router doesn’t support some or all of the options, it might be time to upgrade. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited family and friends and we start talking about Wifi or smart home and it leads me to seeing their router. Just like cars, refrigerators and other mechanical devices, routers don’t last forever. Just think about how fast technology changes in general. The real issues are things like:

  • Obsolete WiFi security standards

Most people don’t consider these things as they simply don’t think about them until they run into problems. You don’t need to be a tech expert but I’d recommend you stay on top of these things as best you can to prevent issues or downright catastrophes. And with Black Friday a few days away you have a great reason to re-evaluate your router. There will be a ton of options available in a broad range of prices.

Getting back to security concerns, your guest network is still part of your network. You should be using the best encryption scheme your router supports. The best Wifi security standard is called Wifi Protected Access Version 3, or WPA3 for short. Introduced in 2018 by the Wifi Alliance, there are several variations of the WPA3 standard. But you should go with WPA3-Personal. This option is designed for individual and home Wifi users. For ease-of-use, it allows you to pick your own arbitrary password, including one that might not be optimally secure. But it doesn’t require a deep knowledge of wireless security to configure properly. If you’re running a business or organization with high data security needs, you’ll need someone with specific technical expertise that can help you set up the other WPA3 options.

Running an open guest network might make it easy for your guests to connect easily, but it also means everyone else can easily connect. Unless you don’t mind your neighbors getting free internet through your connection, you really should secure it with a password. Or worse, it’s tough to determine just how far outside your home your network reaches. An open network that extends to the street that runs by your home invites wardriving — the act of searching for Wifi networks, usually from a moving vehicle, using a laptop or smartphone with software freely available on the internet. Nothing good can come of that.

Like anything else security related in your home, you should use a strong password for your guest network. Further, you should change it more frequently than you change your main Wifi password.

The majority of the time, when a guest wants access to your Wifi network, it’s for their smartphone. You can make it easy to use a strong password while simultaneously not creating a hassle for your guests by using a QR tool, like QiFi, to turn your guest network and password into a handy QR code your guests can scan.

You can either print it off and stick it to the fridge or simply save it on your phone to show them when they need it. Some Wifi platforms like Eero even support native QR code creation right from the mobile app, which is pretty convenient. If you have an Eero mesh network like Debbie and I, instructions on how to set up the guest network QR code are here.

Once your Wifi is encrypted and secured with a good password, make sure network isolation is enabled. By default, it should be. On some routers you won’t even be given the option to turn it off because they want your guest network creation experience to be foolproof. But you should always double-check that it is enabled. Look for any settings with terms like ‘access point isolation,’ ‘restrict access to local area network,’ ‘access intranet,’ or variations of those things that use acronyms like AP or LAN.

Also make sure you are toggling these settings only for the guest network. Access point isolation is a great feature for a guest network because it ensures each guest is effectively siloed into a single connection. However, if you apply access point isolation to your entire network, it will stop all wireless clients from communicating with each other and will break the functionality of many network and smart home devices.

Ultimately, the fundamental purpose of a guest network is to separate the network activity of guests from the main network. If your guest network is configured to allow access to the local intranet/LAN, then you’re missing out on the best feature.

While most people probably don’t care about monitoring what their guests are looking at or block adult material, that doesn’t mean parental controls and related restrictions aren’t still useful for guest networks. Many controls allow you to restrict access to things like peer-to-peer (P2P) protocols. As our grandkids will be accessing our guest network with their devices we’ll be locking it down. Again, better safe than sorry.

If you have a slower connection, a small data cap or just want to keep your guests from hogging network resources, enabling Quality of Service (QoS) rules for your guest network or limiting the available bandwidth is also wise move. Once you’ve reviewed your router settings, for QoS or otherwise, make sure to test that they’re in effect. Try accessing devices on your local LAN while logged into the guest network, run speed tests to try out the QoS, and otherwise ensure that how you think your guest network is configured is how your guest network actually works.

Some of this may sound scary or intimidating but it really isn’t. After all, router manufacturers work really hard to provide the best user experience with easy to configure devices since most people aren’t that tech savvy. It just takes a little time and patience as most software configuration will walk you through the process. Or you can always ask people like me for help.

The Holidays are supposed to be a fun time of fellowship with family and friends. With a little work up front you can ensure that happens for everyone’s online experience and protect your network as well. Has this gotten you thinking about the security of your network? Are you already using a guest network for your home Wifi? If not, are you considering it? Are you looking forward to Black Friday or Cyber Monday to upgrade your router? There’ll be a lot of great options out there so take advantage of the savings.

Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what your thoughts are regarding home Wifi guest networks. Let us know about your router upgrade as well. I’m curious what you choose and why. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’ Until next week …

SmartHomeOnTheRange.com

SmartHomeOnTheRange.com

In full disclosure, I’m not an affiliate marketer with links to any online retailer on my website. When people read what I’ve written about a particular product and then click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn nothing from the retailer. The links are strictly a convenience for my readers.

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Tod Caflisch

Smart Home technology visionary with passion for out of the box solutions for home technology integrations, focusing on efficiency, safety and sustainability.