Visitors to your home are likely to ask to use your Wi-Fi to get online, but you might not be keen to share the password and give them access to your network.
Anyone with the password will be able to use the broadband connection when in range of the Wi-Fi, and they don’t need to be inside your home to do it. There is also a risk that they may be able to access network attached hard drives, printers, or any other devices shared over the network.
However, many Wi-Fi routers now offer a guest network feature that lets visitors get online while protecting the overall security of your network.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a guest network is and show you how to set up and use it.
Guest Wi-Fi: the key points
- A guest Wi-Fi network allows you to safely share broadband with visitors.
- The guest Wi-Fi connection will have a separate network name and password.
- Visitors will be able to use the internet, but will not have access to other devices on your network.
- Guest Wi-Fi is a standard feature on many Wi-Fi routers that anyone can set up in a few minutes.
What is a guest Wi-Fi network?
A guest Wi-Fi connection is an extension of your home broadband Wi-Fi which provides visitors with limited access to the network.
They will be able to get on the internet, but will not have access to the rest of your home network unless you allow it. That means they will not be able to access devices or resources available on your networks, such as a shared printer or a network folder with shared files. You can also control the speed of their broadband connection so visitors do not use up all your bandwidth and slow the internet for everyone else.
Guest Wi-Fi uses a different network name (known as an SSID - Service Set Identifier) to your regular Wi-Fi. So when someone wants to get online you give them the guest Wi-Fi network name and password instead, letting them use the broadband without putting the rest of your network at risk.
Why would I need guest Wi-Fi?
Everyone who has visitors in their home that may want to use the internet should set up a guest Wi-Fi network.
It is especially important if you regularly have strangers staying over (letting out rooms on Airbnb, for example) but it’s still a good idea even if it’s just the occasional friend or relative.
Guest Wi-Fi can also be useful for separating smart home devices - such as Wi-Fi lightbulbs, smart speakers, and connected appliances - from the rest of your network.
Smart home gadgets often have poorly implemented security which makes them vulnerable to attack, and by keeping them on the guest Wi-Fi you can make it harder for hackers to gain access to the rest of your network via insecure hardware. (However, it’s still important to take other precautions such as using strong passwords and regularly updating device firmware, and it’s generally a good idea to be extremely wary about smart home devices).
How do I set up guest Wi-Fi?
Using guest Wi-Fi is really easy. It doesn’t require any complex configuration or in-depth technical knowledge and takes just a few minutes to set up.
But, you will need a Wi-Fi router that supports guest networks. It is a common feature now so any router made in the last few years probably has it, but if your router is older it may not be available.
You can ask your broadband provider if they have a newer model available which has guest Wi-Fi capabilities (you may have to pay a fee for upgrading). Most providers will also allow you to purchase your own Wi-Fi router, though do check before buying anything and be aware that they may not be able to offer technical support if anything goes wrong.
The steps below have been illustrated with an Asus RT-AX88U Wi-Fi router. If you have another Asus model you will probably find that the options are very similar to our example. For other makes and models, the crucial settings should be the same but may have different naming conventions and options.
Step 1: access your Wi-Fi router management interface
You’ll need access to your Wi-Fi router administrator controls to set up guest Wi-Fi.
Each router can be slightly different so we can’t provide exact instructions, but in general, you do this by connecting to your router’s IP address (for example https://192.168.0.1) with a web browser.
Enter a password (and sometimes a username, though this is not always required) when prompted and the management interface will load up in your browser.
Consult your router’s manual for detailed instructions for your hardware. It’s also standard to find the default IP address and login printed on a sticker attached to the router.
We have a dedicated guide to setting up a router which provides more information, and some tips on important settings to check while you’re in there. In particular, if this is the first time you’ve accessed your router administrator controls you should change the default admin password.
Step 2: locate the guest Wi-Fi option
Find the guest network option in your router control panel. Often this will be a sub-section under ‘Wireless’ or ‘Wi-Fi’ settings, but you might also find it has its own section in the main menu.
Step 3: enable guest Wi-Fi
Out of the box, guest Wi-Fi will be disabled so you’ll need to hit a button or check a box to activate this feature.
If your router is dual-band (which means it supports the operation of both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks at the same time) then you will have separate guest network options for each frequency band. For most purposes, 2.4GHz will be sufficient for guests. While not the quickest, it has a higher range and is more widely supported.
If you are using a guest network to connect smart home devices you may want to use 5GHz for faster speeds.
In our example, the router offers the ability to create up to three separate guest networks. This can be useful if you wish to offer a different level of network access to different visitors, but in most cases, there's no need to have more than one guest network per frequency.
Step 4: configure basic guest Wi-Fi settings
When enabling the guest network it will present you with some settings to tweak. If you just want a basic internet connection for visitors and aren’t concerned about restricting usage, then there are only a few key options to set.
SSID (network name): This is what you’ll see when connecting to the Wi-Fi on a device. You can leave it on the default name, or change it to whatever you like (but if you use the same name as your main network make sure to add “-guest” or similar in order to differentiate it).
Authentication method: This will enable password protection for your network. Never use an open network as it means anyone nearby will be able to connect without a password. Set it to use either ‘WPA2’ or, ideally, ‘WPA3’. Do not enable 'WEP' as it is very insecure - if that’s the only option available you should consider upgrading to a newer router.
WPA key/password: This is the password that guests will use to connect to the network. As always, make sure it is unique, and not too short. Aim for at least eight characters with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols.
Intranet access: This controls whether guest users have access to the wider network, and must be off to protect your other devices (it should be disabled by default, but always check).
Step 5: configure advanced guest Wi-Fi settings.
Your router will probably have a few other options to tweak if you want more control over guest access, such as:
Hide SSID: This will hide the network name from devices, so in order to connect you will have to provide guests with the network name as well as the password.
Access time: Control how long to allow a guest user to stay connected to the Wi-Fi.
Bandwidth limit: Restrict the download and upload speed of the guest Wi-Fi connection. This will prevent guests from using up all your bandwidth and slowing down your broadband.
MAC Filter: A Media Access Control (MAC) address is attached to every bit of hardware connected to a network. MAC Filters can be used to either exclude specific devices or only permit specific devices to connect to the guest network.
Step 6: Share your guest Wi-Fi network
With the guest Wi-Fi enabled you can now start sharing the details with visitors. All they’ll need is the password (and name, if you have enabled the ‘Hide SSID’ option).
You can also use a free online QR code generator and print out the codes so guests don’t even need to ask for the details.