Guest Wi-Fi Network Setup and Tips

Let visitors use your Wi-Fi without sharing the main password

Some routers support guest networks, which are part of the primary network but use a different password (or none at all) and often provide feature-limiting capabilities.

Guest networks are often customary for businesses but are increasingly common for home networks, too.

Benefits of Guest Wi-Fi Networking

A guest Wi-Fi network is beneficial for both the owner of the network and those who use it. Guest networking provides a way for users to access a network in seconds with little to no setup on their part. Depending on how the guest network is configured, they can access the internet and local resources on the network like files, printers, and hardware peripherals.

From the administrator's point of view, the guest network broadens the reach of the network to visitors without needing to give out a network password. Guest networks also improve security because the owner can limit what guests have access to—e.g., the internet but no local resources. This helps prevent the spread of worms that may enter from a guest's device.

Using a Guest Network

Joining a guest wireless network works in much the same way as connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot or the Wi-Fi at a friend's house. Guests must be provided with the network name and password to access the network.

However, some guest networks are completely open, meaning there isn't a password to access it. In such cases, the network name (SSID) may be called "Guest," "Guest Wifi," "CompWifi," "Free Wifi," or some other variation.

Open and free Wi-Fi for guests is often what you find in malls, restaurants, parks, and other public places. In places like hotels, you'll often receive the guest Wi-Fi information from the staff. For guest networks running from home, you'll most likely need to ask the owner what their Wi-Fi password is.

If you plan to upload or download a lot of data, let the administrator know in advance. Drawing a lot of bandwidth causes the entire network to slow down, so it's always best to get permission first.

Does Your Router Support Guest Networking?

Business-class routers are common platforms for guest networks, but some home routers have guest networking capabilities as well. You can check the manufacturer's website to be sure, or do some digging in the router settings to see if there's an option for a guest network.

The guest network option in a router is usually called "Guest Network" or something similar, but there are some exceptions:

  • D-Link routers typically call it the “Guest Zone.”
  • Google Wifi names this feature "Guest Wi-Fi."
  • Linksys supports a “Guest Access” tool through its Linksys Smart Wi-Fi remote management interface.

Some routers support only one guest network while others can run multiple simultaneously. Dual-band wireless routers often support two—one on the 2.4 GHz band and one on the 5 GHz band. While there's no practical reason why a person needs more than one per band, some Asus RT wireless routers provide for up to six guest networks.

When a guest network is active, its devices operate on a separate IP address range from that of other devices. Some Linksys routers, for example, reserve the address ranges 192.168.3.1–192.168.3.254 and 192.168.33.1–192.168.33.254 for guest devices.

How to Set Up a Guest Wi-Fi Network

Follow these steps to set up a guest network at home:

If these instructions do not work with your router, see the links at the bottom of the page for tips related to specific routers.

  1. 192.168.1.1 router sign in prompt

    This is often done via a web browser through a specific IP address such as 192.168.1.1, but your router may use a different IP address or have a companion mobile app for logins.

  2. Enable the guest Wi-Fi option. Most routers have guest networking disabled by default but provide an on/off option to control it.

    Wireless settings for a Comtrend router
  3. Define the SSID that the guest network should use. This should not be the same as the primary SSID but may be something similar, so that visitors can understand that the network is yours.

    Guest Wi-Fi SSID settings on a Comtrend router

    Some routers automatically set the name of a guest network to be the name of the primary network with a "guest" suffix, like "mynetwork_guest," while others allow you to choose your own name.

  4. Turn SSID broadcast on or off to either keep the network name visible or to hide it from potential guests.

    Hidden SSID setting for a Comtrend router

    Most of the time, you'll want to leave SSID broadcast on so that guests can clearly see which network to use. If you disable the broadcast, you'll have to provide them with the network name and security details so that they can set up the network, something you may want to avoid with a lot of guests.

  5. Choose a password for the guest network. This isn't required on some routers but might be something you want to use to avoid letting anyone access the network.

    Guest Wi-Fi password option on a Comtrend router

    If your router has a secondary Wi-Fi option for guests that functions like normal access on the primary network, you should choose a secure password.

    Unless you block certain access, guests will be able to do anything you, the administrator, can do. That means they can download torrents illegally, spread viruses to other devices, or monitor network traffic and website passwords.

  6. Enable other options as needed. If your router supports it, you may want to restrict access to everything but the internet, or you may be fine letting guests access local resources like file shares.

    Wireless network settings on a Comtrend router

Some Netgear routers, for example, provide a checkbox for administrators to allow guests to see each other and access the local network. Leaving that option disabled blocks guests from reaching local resources but allows them to get online through the shared internet connection.

You may also want to limit how many guests can connect to your network at the same time. Picking a reasonable number is a good way to prevent the network from overloading and slowing to a halt.

Router-Specific Directions

The above steps provide a general direction for finding and using the guest Wi-Fi features of your router. If they weren't enough to help, visit the manufacturer's site for more detail.

Guest networking is available from these manufacturers and others: Linksys, D-Link, Google, NETGEAR, ASUS, and Cisco.