How to Capture Email on UniFi

Capture Email on UniFi

So you have your UniFi network up and running and somebody, usually from marketing or sales asks, can we capture guest email? Or maybe you are planning a new deployment with guest email capture being part of the requirements. Either way you need to find a way to capture email on UniFi. There are several ways to do this, and these are outlined in the paragraphs that follow. If you want to skip the detail and just get started collecting email on UniFi then check out our UniFi guest portal page to get started

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Video of user logging onto WiFi

Why Capture Email on UniFi?

The hospitality and retail environments are very competitive. There are many venues competing for a set number of potential customers and considering the fact that 50-60% of restaurants will fail, it is not surprising that these venues want every competitive edge that they can manage. We are continually being told that data is gold and data is the new oil so it stands to reason that bricks and mortar stores should want to get as much value from data as possible. There are plenty of applications of that data and reasons to capture email on UniFi, like getting more google reviews among others. If you want to read more about the possible applications, check out our WiFi Hotspot page.  


Options to Capture Email on UniFi

You will have several options available to you should you want to capture email on UniFi. Some of these will require extra hardware, some will require UniFi controllers to be online. Some will suit certain conditions, some may be ruled out entirely depending on what you have in place already. In the paragraphs that follow, we attempt to outline the details of each of the options

External Portal Server

This is the best option currently available to capture email on UniFi. Essentially, it involves building your own application that then uses the UniFi API to authenticate users. It is set up inside the Guest Control section and the UniFi controller will direct all traffic to your app where you will capture their data. Your app in this scenario is essentially the captive portal and it will need to be hosted somewhere. There are many considerations on whether you should build or buy your UniFi external portal server that we will not discuss in detail here. For this option it does not matter which gateway you use. The only thing that is required in that your UniFi controller is publicly accessible so that the API can function correctly

Third Party Gateway

Installing a third party gateway at the base of your network is another way 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. This option may also impact the guest isolation element of the UniFi guest WiFi network so this will need to be managed in other ways

UniFi Social Media Guest Authentication

UniFi also have their own native hotspot module where you can opt to use vouchers, payments or simply provide access via a portal. They have also incorporated Facebook, Google and WeChat authentication where there appears to be an option to keep the users email. In theory, this is to let users authenticate user their social media accounts however we have never been able to test it with any great degree of satisfaction. There is an option embedded in the settings that allow you to “request user email” and again this was something we were not able to verify. Although this may be a potential way to capture email on UniFi in the future, at the time of writing it does not appear to be a viable option for collecting email addresses at scale. You will be required to have Facebook and Google developer accounts and it does not allow for simple email registration which would be a problem for many users

Hotspot 2.0

Technically this is another option to collect email on UniFi, however the Hotspot 2.0 process is radically different to the standard captive portal model. There is an opportunity to capture users emails when they initially signup for their Hotspot 2.0 certificate, however it could be limited in scope, depending on how it is implemented. Hotspot 2.0 involves installing a certificate on each client device and then providing a separate SSID that they autoconnect to. This is not the place to dig deeper into Hotspot 2.0 and we will leave that for another day, however at the time of writing while it is possible to capture email using this method it would be difficult to implement and have a very limited return. Hotspot 2.0 is an area that we are investigating, so please get in touch or schedule a demo if you would like to discuss in more detail

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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 platforms including Mailchimp, 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 and Context

Having only email is of limited value. there are other important indicators that combined with email provide much needed context to your data:

  • When did they sign up?
  • How many times have they visited?
  • What part of the location did they use?
  • When were they last here?

If you are going to capture email on UniFi then you will need to capture and present this other important data also 

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Capture Email on UniFi

So that concludes our blog piece on how to capture email on UniFi. There are several options, some more suitable than others. It is fair to say that on balance using the external portal server is the most effective and value adding way of achieving this objective. Third Party Gateway is also worthy of consideration. If your objective is to capture a significant volume of email on WiFi then then UniFi Social Media registration and Hotspot 2.0 are really not going to deliver in this regard and are best avoided.  If you are looking for the best WiFi Hotspot and external portal service that you can buy right now then check out our product here

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