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How to Capture Email on UniFi

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MyPlace Connect

So you are planning your UniFi deployment and your client has asked if they can capture their customer email data before they use the guest WiFi service. This is a growing requirement in the hospitality and retail business, where competition for customers is fierce. If you are deploying a WiFi network then you have a few options available if you want to capture email on UniFi.

Third Party Gateway

This is probably the most common method of implementing a captive portal to capture email on UniFi. Essentially, your network gateway device will divert all guest traffic, to an external captive portal and external radius server. Most enterprise gateway devices will have this functionality however you will need to set up and manage your own radius server and captive portal web server to handle the AAA services and data capture forms/database accordingly. Mikrotik is one example of a hardware manufacturer with a wide range of routers that can handle this functionality very nicely and at an affordable price. There are of course, many third party gateway devices/services that you can buy off the shelf to capture email on UniFi Access Points.

UniFi Native Authentication and External Portal Server

Ubiquiti have their own guest traffic authentication options, built into their hardware and impressive UniFi controller. Most of the native features allows for basic hotspot functionality, including vouchers, acceptable use policy and social logon options. What is does not allow for at this point, at least within the confines of the controller is the ability to capture email on UniFi WiFi deployments. Ubiquiti do however provide an option to link an external captive portal to their native authentication model. By selecting the “External Portal Server” option in guest network setup you can divert all guest traffic to an external web server to handle the data capture function.  This does require significant development investment, so if you don’t have the time or resources there are enterprise options available.

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USG Radius Services

This is a very recent addition to the UniFi controller and indeed is still in beta so it is difficult to get a full understanding of what exactly this service will offer when released. It worthy of mention as it *may* provide an additional option to capture email on UniFi hardware. To use this service you will need to have a UniFi Security Gateway in place to manage the radius server functionality.

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User Considerations

Building a data capture feature is one thing and managing users is another. For example what if people, as they often do, enter fake email addresses? Do you send out a verification email to make sure that they exist before passing the details onto your client for marketing? How would your service handle the captive network assistant?  High bounce rates on most email marketing platforms will result in penalties and even account suspension. There is also the question of how you manage returning users who have already entered and verified their email address. Is your application set up to allow seamless access for these users who have already completed the data capture form. What about users with multiple devices and the same email address and social registration? The last thing you want to do is create a bad user experience with frustrated users. At MyPlace Connect we have a policy of WiFi access first, data capture second and it helps us manage the tricky balance between access and data capture

Data Considerations

Another important considerations when you building an application to capture email on UniFi is getting the right permissions from the WiFi guests. Firstly, it is required practice from most if not all email marketing platform, which must then have in place opt out options in all correspondence. Secondly, and more important if your are collecting and managing data in Europe, you will need to abide by the incoming GDPR regulations. Falling foul of these regulations can result in a penalty of up to 10% of a business’ annual revenue so this is not something to be ignored. GDPR needs to be considered for all hospitality businesses and when you are capturing user data for marketing you need to factor in these upcoming regulations.

Capture Email on UniFi

Capturing guest data will become increasingly in demand from hospitality clients,especially as digital services in the hospitality trade continue to grow. If you are in the business of deploying UniFi hardware, this will need to be part of your product offering. The UniFi Radius Service looks promising but it is still in beta and will take some time to become available. Third party gateways are well established and there are plenty of options available. The UniFi external portal server option is most promising due to its native authentication on an access point level, particularly if you implement an Enterprise external portal service. This will be an evolving space, so we wait and watch with interest and at least for now there are many options available to capture email on UniFi.

Peadar Gormley

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