Nowadays, wherever people are, they expect to be able to get online. Mobile internet has become the dominant means people use to access the web, with more people browsing on mobile devices than on desktops.
For businesses and providers of public utilities, that presents both an opportunity and a challenge. Yes, mobile devices can access the internet using their 3G and 4G data connections. But mobile users are always aware of using up their data allowance, if not unlimited, and welcome opportunities to get online for free. Good quality WiFi provides an added value service to customers.
There are numerous reasons why providing public WiFi makes sense to leisure centre operators. One is the demographic of their customers, who are often young, ‘native’ users of mobile who will view free WiFi as a must when making decisions about where to go. Another is the way that mobile technology has taken off in health and fitness, with the arrival of wearable trackers, fitness apps and more, meaning many gym goers now view their mobile as an indispensable part of their workout.
The challenge to leisure centres is to get the WiFi right. Public WiFi is now often viewed with suspicion and frustration, as low bandwidth, poor configuration and non-existent security protocols make many systems not fit for purpose for modern browsing needs. WiFi provides an invaluable service many customers look for – but if you are going to offer it, it has to be done properly.
What do visitors use WiFi for?
There are 9.7 million gym and leisure centre members in the UK. A growing number use wearable trackers like FitBit and Garmin to monitor their workout, sending data to apps on their mobile which then configure performance assessments and plans. These apps can make suggestions about which routines to do next, compare performance with previous visits and build up an overall picture of health and fitness in the long term. But to work to their fullest, they need an internet connection.
Apart from that, gym goers like to listen to music or watch videos as a distraction and motivation during workouts. With good WiFi, they can stream content rather than having to preload it onto their devices. And then there is the social side – whether they are in the gym or sitting in the cafe, people want to be able to get onto social media or their favourite messaging apps.
Providing reliable WiFi
The main challenge for providing fit for purpose WiFi at a leisure centre is size. Leisure centres tend to be large buildings with numerous different sections – gymnasiums, sports halls, indoor courts, swimming pools, spectator areas, spa and sauna, and then cafe and bars too.
The first thing to consider is bandwidth. Leisure centres can be busy places, and the more people there are trying to get online at once, the more bandwidth you need. Specialist commercial ISPs can provide high bandwidth fibre connections to give you ultrafast connections in all circumstances.
The next issue is network configuration. To make WiFi available throughout a leisure centre, you will need to use good quality WLAN Access Points (APs) – signal distributors connected to your main router which make wireless signal available over a certain area. These need to be located according to demand – in busier areas like a cafe, you may need more APs to meet demand, whereas in a swimming pool demand is likely to be much lower.
If you would like to learn more about setting up or upgrading a WiFi network in your organisation, please contact Simpli-Fi today. We provide a managed WiFi service to the education, construction, leisure and public sectors, delivering robust and affordable WiFi connections with remote management, service desk and support.