Guest networks are a very useful router feature and one that far too many people don’t take advantage of. Here’s why you should turn on your guest network today.
While the name might do a bit of heavy lifting as to what a guest network is exactly, it never hurts to clarify—and what exactly a “guest network” entails can vary significantly from router to router.
A guest network, at its most simple, is a way separate from your primary SSID for guests in your home to connect to your network. Some routers simply don’t support guest mode because they don’t have the hardware or firmware support for it. But most routers these days, even inexpensive models, have some sort of guest mode.
How that guest mode works ranges from the most basic option where guests get a different SSID name and address to more advanced where you get that but can also apply parental controls, scheduling, and other network configuration options.
If you’re curious about what your router can do, poke around in the administrative control panel or search through the help files for your particular model. And if you find it’s a bit lacking in the guest network department, it might be time to upgrade—especially if your router is particularly outdated.
There are a wide variety of reasons to take advantage of your router’s guest network capability. Below you’ll find what we think are the most compelling reasons to turn your guest network on and get more from your router.
When you turn on your guest network, be sure to follow these best practices to ensure it’s secure.
People hate changing their Wi-Fi passwords. It might not have been a big deal to change your password back when we only had a few devices in our homes, but now changing your password means updating a whole pile of things. And if you’re the one who manages the tech in your home, that means everyone beating down your door to tell you their tablet can’t connect to the Wi-Fi anymore.
The greatest thing about a guest network is that you can give your guests a password and then change it as often as you want while leaving your primary SSID’s password the same. Guests can get a new password when they visit, and you can leave your main network alone.
For the most part, I’m sure not many of us genuinely worry that guests in our homes are elite hackers trying to infiltrate our home network. After all, if I’m willing to invite you over for dinner or a beer, I’m probably not regarding you with suspicion.
But from a security standpoint, the best practice is to never give anyone (or their devices) access to things they don’t need access to. And there’s no reason for a guest in your home to have full access to your home network just to scroll through Instagram on your patio or use Wi-Fi calling on their phone.
You might think, “What are you guys talking about, Steve poses zero threat to my home network?” And sure, Steve probably doesn’t. But Steve’s kids messing around on his laptop and getting it infected with piles of malware while trying to get free Robux might when that laptop is now attached “naked” to your home network.
And ultimately, there’s usually no reason for your guests to be on the same network as your file server, your security cameras, your smart home gear, or otherwise have access to your stuff.
If your router supports fine-tuning the guest network experience to apply parental controls and restrictions, it can be a great way to protect yourself from liability.
What kind of liability? The sort of liability that comes from people on your network running applications or services that get you legal notices or attract unwanted attention. By using the settings on your router to disable access to peer-to-peer file sharing services (P2P) and such, you can ensure that you don’t end up getting a letter from your ISP asking why you (but actually your visiting nephew) were sharing copies of the newest Marvel movie.
And again, you might not think any of your guests would just outright fire up a BitTorrent or similar client on your network without asking, but in some cases, people don’t even know. Millions of people have used the app Popcorn Time, for example, without a clue that they’re actually using a media player with a built-in BitTorrent client.
Smart home gear, often referred to by the acronym IoT (Internet of Things), is—in so many ways—a bit of a mess both from a security standpoint and a networking standpoint.
There are so many whitebox and no-name brand smart home products on the market like smart plugs and Wi-Fi light switches that it’s almost a guarantee at some point that the products will be an issue. Either they’ll stop receiving security updates and support at best or actually be compromised at worst.
All the more reason to put those things on a separate guest network where they can access the internet and fulfill their smart function but can’t talk to, say, your PC or home file server.
This is, however, not without additional headaches in some cases. Sometimes putting a piece of smart home gear on an isolated local network really throws a wrench in the functionality of the control app or even the device itself, and it will need to be migrated back to your primary network.
Shutting down your whole Wi-Fi network is usually a non-starter. We have too many devices, and cutting internet access to everyone is a drastic way to deal with turning off access to a group of devices or users.
But with a guest network, you can do that easily without impacting your primary devices or users. Want to shut down internet access on your nephews’ tablets at the end of the night? Only want a bunch of your smart devices to have access to the internet now and then to get updates?
While you can accomplish those things with more complex networking tricks and tools, grouping them together on a guest network makes it easy to blanket toggle access.
So whether you want to keep smart home products with a dubious pedigree isolated or offer a secure way for your guests to browse the internet, rolling out a guest network to do so is a great idea.