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05-19 Tracking WiFi Usage At Your Library

Tech Tip Wifi Usage

 

Tracking WiFi Usage At Your Library

For a variety of reasons, including providing statistics for the State Report, libraries should seek to track the usage of their WiFi networks. Depending on the solution used, statistics that can be tracked include:

  • Number of sessions (depending on how you determine what a session is - length of time using network, etc)

  • Number of users / number of unique users

  • Websites being visited and bandwidth usage

  • Types of devices using your network

  • And more

 

For our May Tech Tip, we'll quickly review some of the major categories of solutions for tracking usage of your WiFi network. This Tip isn't designed to go into specific step by step instructions - as that will vary greatly depending on the solution chosen and software/hardware - but rather an overview of the options available.

 

One other note - the Tech Committee actually provided a Tech Talk Webinar on this very topic several years ago, taught by Kurt Hadeler. You can watch this whole presentation on the Knowledge Base. It's a great overview and explains, in depth, the solutions mentioned in this tip, so please check it out if you want more information.

 

Options Available for Tracking

The options available to you will depend on what you have set up at your library. Some of the more robust solutions for accurately tracking usage levels for the previous year will depend on having setup software/hardware to track that usage at the beginning of the year. If you have not done that, then unfortunately you have limited solutions for the previous year. But now is a great time to get setup and ready for next year.

 

Options

  1. Visual Count and Estimate

    1. This is the most basic way to estimate your usage - simply designate certain times during a day/week/month and visually count the number of people using devices inside the library. Of course, some people may not be using your network on their device and others may have their devices automatically logging in without actually using them when you look, so this will be a very rough estimate. However, you can get a ballpark idea of the usage level if you pick several times during a given day and then extrapolate for an entire year on those estimates.

    2. Pros - free, easy, can do right now, no tech required

    3. Cons - inaccurate, ballpark estimate only, no control or view of your wireless network usage and tracking

  2. Using Your Access Points

    1. These are the main devices that provide the connect your patrons use for access to your WiFi network. These are usually provided by your Internet Service Provider, like Verizon, Optimum or Spectrum.

    2. These services usually come with at the very least a Web Management Interface. This is software that you can log into using account login information, or at the very least the standard instructions provided on the device itself.

    3. This software can usually give you a basic snapshot of your network at the time you login - you can see how many devices are logged on usually. So you can check to see how many devices are logged on in a given day or multiple times during the day. And then extrapolate for a full year with a day's worth of snapshots or a week or month - however you prefer.

    4. Pros - no cost, software should be provided with your current equipment/ISP, limited tech needed, can provide accurate snapshot of how many devices are logged on at a given time

    5. Cons - only provides a snapshot - can't generate a number over time, basic information only, still required an estimate only

  3. Network Monitoring Utilities

    1. Additional software/tools that can be added to your current WiFi setup.

    2. Usually runs in tandem or in addition to your basic Access Point Web Management Interface.

    3. Displays the IP, MAC, PC name and other information of devices connected to your network

    4. Scans and displays connected devices for whole network - this is better if you are using multiple Access Points - instead of having to login to each device and compile, this will provide information for your whole network

    5. Different options based on software for displaying information - still only a Snapshot of usage at a given time though

    6. Pros - Usually Free and easy to use/ better when running multiples Access Points

    7. Cons - still only provides a Snapshot of usage information

  4. Decoding the DHCP

    1. Requires some software and initial setup - a little more tech heavy for setup

    2. Tracks based on your 'server' - which can be setup to track your firewall, router, AP server, etc.

    3. Can track as Snapshots OR send logs of data to a Simple Network Management Protocol

    4. Can Export to Excel, though a little cumbersome

    5. Pros - can use logs to more accurately track usage over time rather than just a snapshot / low cost

    6. Cons - requires tech setup and software/ need to adjust log files in Excel in order to use effectively/ not as user friendly

    7. Note - will only be able to track data back to initial setup date

  5. Catch a Captive Portal

    1. This solution is a method of creating a “splash page” or login page when patrons access your WiFi. This requires setup using specific software/hardware.

    2. Once you have a splash page setup, then every time a patron logs onto your WiFi they will by default visit the page you designate - for instance an extra web page you create specifically for this purpose. Could be a login page too OR simply a page they visit or click through.

    3. Once setup, you can install Google Analytics onto that designated page and then use that FREE software to track all usage. Google Analytics provides robust data sets so you will also have access to that information as well.

    4. Can track back to the initial setup date, so allows you to accurately track throughout the year.

    5. Pros - can provide accurate usage data once setup/ Google Analytics provides additional robust usage data that can be helpful/ can use Splash page to require a password for access, display library information/promotional materials, display library policies, etc.

    6. Cons - will change library patron experience slightly by requiring the splash page/ requires software and Google Analytics setup

    7. Note - will only be able to track data back to initial setup date

  6. Cloud Based Management Systems

    1. Provides the most robust tracking solution. This is specific hardware and software you would purchase and install for managing your library's WiFi network. For example, Meraki products (Access Points, Routers, etc) are often utilized for their high quality and robust tracking and management tools.

    2. Can track all sessions and devices over time with a fully ONLINE management tool. Also provides robust management options, like tracking

    3. Pros - most robust solution/ provides in depth management and tracking tools/ gives you the most control and accuracy

    4. Cons - Highest cost/ tied to a specific company for providing your hardware/software

    5. Note - will only be able to track data back to initial setup date

 

Other Things to Remember

  1. Some solutions will only provide data back to when they were initially setup

  2. When tracking usage levels, remember to REMOVE library staff devices (connected computers, tablets, etc.) as those do not reflect public usage

  3. When tracking sessions, you will define what a session counts as - how long a device is logged on to your network is usually the standard

 

Links

  1. Network Monitoring Utilities

    1. Free Options

      1. Wireless Network Watcher - https://www.nirsoft.net/utils/wireless_network_watcher.html

      2. Advanced IP Scanner - http://www.advanced-ip-scanner.com

      3. Angry IP Scanner - http://angryip.org/

    2. Paid Options

      1. WhoFi - https://whofi.com/agents/windows/

      2. Solar Winds - https://www.solarwinds.com/

  2. Captive Portal Option

    1. pfSense - https://www.pfsense.org/

  3. Cloud Based Wireless Network Management Options

    1. Cisco Meraki - https://meraki.cisco.com/

      1. Can take one of their online webinars to receive a free access point

      2. Available through JerseyConnect at a discount - https://www.jerseyconnect.net/topics/announcements/managed-wifi/  

    2. Aerohive - https://www.aerohive.com/

    3. OpenMesh - lower cost alternative to Meraki or Aerohive - https://www.openmesh.com/

  4. JerseyConnect

    1. There are options provided through the JerseyConnect for libraries for a variety of services and hardware with discounts. Check out the website to learn more:

    2. https://www.jerseyconnect.net/topics/announcements/managed-wifi/



Technology Committee
Compiled By Matt Latham
Original Presentation/Webinar by Kurt Hadeler

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