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 almost customary in businesses but have become more common on home networks, too.

Benefits of Guest Wi-Fi Networking

A guest Wi-Fi network is beneficial for both sides: the owner of the network and the users of the network.

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, etc.

From the admin's point of view, the guest network broadens the reach of the network to visitors without needing to give out the main network's password. Another way a guest network improves security is that the owner can limit what guests have access to (e.g., the internet but no local resources), meaning that it helps stop the spread of worms that might 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.

Someone who knows the password (a family member, owner of the company, network admin, etc.) must provide the password and the network name so that you know which network to use.

However, some guest networks are completely open, meaning that there isn't a password. In fact, the network name (SSID) might even be called "Guest," "Guest Wifi," "CompWifi," "Free Wifi," "JHotels_guest," etc.

Open and free Wi-Fi for guests is often what you'll find in malls, restaurants, parks, etc. In other businesses like hotels, you'll often get the guest Wi-Fi password at check-in or on your key card. For guest networks running from home, you'll most likely need to ask the owner what their Wi-Fi password is.

Be polite and ask before trying to join someone’s guest network. If you plan to use the internet heavily, let them know in advance. Sucking up all the bandwidth might be ideal for you but it actually 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 the most prominent supporters of guest networks, but some home routers have guest networking capabilities, too. 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 something appropriate like "Guest Network," but there are some exceptions:

  • D-Link routers typically call it “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 multiples 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 basic steps to set up a guest network at home:

If these guest Wi-Fi setup directions don't work for your router, see the links at the bottom of this page for steps relevant for your specific router.

  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 might use a different IP address or have a companion mobile app used 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 shouldn't be the same as the primary SSID but maybe 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 might want to avoid if you'll have lots of guests.

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

    Guest Wi-Fi password option on a Comtrend router

    If your router lets you limit what the guests can do, you might be fine having the guest network open for passersby because you're not worried about what they'll do on your network. However, if your router simply has a secondary Wi-Fi option for guests that functions much like normal access on the primary network, choose a secure password.

    Remember that unless you block certain types of access on the guest network, visitors will be able to do anything you can do. For example, they might use your guest network to download torrents illegally, spread viruses to your other devices, monitor network traffic such as passwords you type into websites, etc. In short: if they'll have access to your regular network, use a password.

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

    Wireless network settings on a Comtrend router

For example, some Netgear routers 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 still allows them to get online through the shared internet connection.

Another option you might find in your router is a way 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 becoming overloaded 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.