Ask LH: Can I Sell Pocket Wi-Fi Access At My School?

Ask LH: Can I Sell Pocket Wi-Fi Access At My School?

Dear Lifehacker, I want to be able to access any website at my school, and proxy servers don’t work well, so my idea was having a pocket Wi-Fi. I want to make money from this in the same way as a hotel, controlling who can use it and be able to disconnect people that haven’t paid me. I would like to be able to monitor how much data people use and shut them off if they use too much. Is it possible to do this? Thanks, Hotspot Harry

School picture from Shutterstock

Dear HH,

We admire your initiative, but we have to recommend you don’t pursue this approach for a whole host of reasons. First, the chances are you’ll end up in serious trouble with the school for doing it. It’s one thing to accept that technically adept students will work around content blocks; it’s another thing to have someone blatantly making money out of it. There’s no way you’ll be able to keep it a secret, especially since the range of Wi-Fi hotspots is relatively limited, so anyone seeking illicit access will be hanging around near you.

Secondly, 4G Wi-Fi is hugely variable in performance, and that’s going to be exacerbated with multiple people accessing the device. Most consumer Wi-Fi hotpsots limit connections to five devices, but that’s still enough to cause problems. Finally, the contract for most hotspot services will usually forbid selling the service to others. Again, this might not be detected, but when you get busted it’s not going to help matters any.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I foresee bullies no longer stealing lunch money. Instead, they will beat you up for the wifi password.
    Seriously though, just convert the pr0n to something compatible with your iOS / android / whatever device of choice and be done with it.

  • Gotta love the ingenuity 🙂
    Sadly these pocket wifi devices aren’t really designed for multiple users. I doubt you’d be able to track bandwidth per device, so someone could decide to download a shiteload and you’d be stuck with a massive bill.

    Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you’re letting random other people have access to download anything they want, which is linked to your (or your parents?) mobile account. Worst case scenario some classmate downloads bomb making instructions from Al Qaeda and you’re sniped by a drone walking home from school.

  • You little network would quickly be detected on a well deployed school network, and possibly even shut down given the capabilities of modern Cisco wireless setups.

    That said, I probably would have tried a similar scheme when I was younger. I just tried to sell second hand toys and collectibles!

    • Sorry but that makes no sense… I dont think that a Cisco setup at a school could block a pocket wifi device (Telstra or Optus 4g for example) from transmitting an SSID or even banning devices from connecting to it, let alone shutting it down completely.

      Sure you could remove the student from the school once found…

          • Well to be specific, Xirrus Arrays will interfere with other wireless devices performance either cutting it out completely (for this case the student’s device would interfere with the array’s range), in the end the anomaly will need to be removed probably would track it down using this tool I know this since it’s part of my job to set these up for schools and corporate companies, though it all depends on the level of IT/Tech control that the school has. I’m talking about schools with +1500 students.

          • Yep my schools Xirrus arrays have been doing this for years. I work in a trainee IT position at my school now too so it wouldn’t be to hard to get confirmation of this.

            Strangely enough though it seems that these Xirrus arrays don’t seem to block every device. My Telstra wireless hot spot and SGS get cut off pretty quickly however I have noticed iPhones or wireless adhoc laptop networks with internet connection sharing seem to work pretty well.

            The major issue this kid is going to run into is metering the data that he lets people use. Unless some magical app popped up overnight, I can think of no easy way of him setting up a network with user accounts or session limits from within his pocket. Even with a laptop though this may be a challenge.

          • Ah ok so it’s not so much an issue of them intentionally blocking such activity, but more of competing against stronger, very bandwidth hungry competitors. Makes much more sense.

          • I can confirm this. Our wireless controllers have an option to ‘crowd out’ other wireless networks in range using some strange magic that the NOC people won’t reveal. I have seen it in action however.
            Had a building that had shit wireless performance because of interference from nearby houses, turned this feature on the wireless controller and after about 10 minutes the other wireless networks just disappeared.

            They re-appeared as soon as you left the range of our wireless system, but was fairly cool to see.
            I also have a laptop that could track this kids hotspot down in a matter of minutes and lead me straight to him. No problems at all. So long as I was on the same campus and in range of his WiFi.

          • As an IT Admin at a school with a Cisco setup I tell you that we can and do do this to any device the students set up as a portable hotspot. Having tested it on my own iPhone and laptop, the laptop couldn’t see the WiFi coming from my phone at a distance of 1cm. The students have signed an AUP at the school which permits us to do it.

            We don’t do it because we’re the fun police, we do it because we want to keep the students’ focus on learning.

          • Does the wifi range extend out to the limits of the school grounds? Just curious.

  • I work at a school as a tech and this kid is either going to be handy, or a PITA. On one hand, seems pretty switched on so could get him helping out. On the other, he is trying to set up a rogue network whilst at school, never mind anything else he has thought about doing/has actually done.
    And gomisan is right, as this is most likely a high school, it would probably be sniffed out and blocked out of the park quick smart.

    • I like the way you think.

      I believe this kid should be encouraged in the right manner. He clearly either a) has a knack for business or b) has a knack for IT. Either way he should be guided down a more constructive path by his teachers.

      • To me he just sounds like that guy who comes up with a crazy business idea and tries to sell it without any idea how he’s going to make it happen.

        • Even so, since he is in school ,the worst he is going to get is a high usage bill and a slap on the wrist from the school. I would try it.

          When I was at school there was a kid who sold Coke (Coca-cola) out of his locker because the school had a no soft drink policy. He had students AND teachers coming to him for a can. When the headmaster got a sniff he was told not to do it again.

          Moral of the story, try.

  • 1) don’t resell, accept donations as a way to become a time based member of a club, the hh club, which has the perk of WiFi access. Perfectly legal.

    2) the range is limited but hardly tiny.. Especially with modern devices you can easily blanket a few classes if not more on the same floor.

    3) speeds may be variable but everyone expects that.. Nobody at a school trying to overcome such filtering is going to be demanding torrenting speeds or anything..

    4) I’m pretty sure many of the novatel hotspots support full router style options like per connection data usage through a web interface. Worth researching.

  • If you have legitimate concerns about the quality of internet at your school, ask to speak to a few people there. At my workplace, that would be myself and the person who runs the library (as the internet falls under the category of resources).

    Tell them why you’re unhappy, list schoolwork-related websites as examples (so that they know you’re legit and not just trying to access Facebook while your teacher is talking at the front) and they’ll be happy to accommodate if your request is reasonable — I get requests to unblock sites all the time, and I’ll gladly unblock them, as long as it’s a site used for school work.

    That aside, you can also run into trouble from the company delivering the connection. Most Terms of Use forbid you from selling the internet you’re provided (and would even see accepting donations as selling), so you don’t want to stir up the telcos.

    Also keep in mind that by providing unfiltered internet access, the blame will be on you if anything goes awry — if students use it to organise after school fights, or download porn, the school has no technological responsibility (as it’s not their internet connection being used) but you do, as you provided the access and the last thing you want is to be bailed up by four parents and a bunch of people from the school, asking why you let their son or daughter access the internet.

    Of course, I am a hypocrite. I managed to “toggle” my school’s internet connection (back in 2004) so my own user account (stupid, I know!) didn’t get charged any money for browsing (and we also bypassed the filters). But it still kept track of how much was used and pretty soon I was stuck with a $500 bill and the principal AND the company providing the internet, wanting answers, as my password had spread to dozens of students. May not be the same thing (the internet was provided by the school, not by me) but my point is, getting caught sucks so not even once.

  • If it were me doing it I’d keep the pocket wifi device password to myself, and share the connection through a small PC, say a Raspberry Pi, or even a rooted android phone should have enough grunt. That will give you the capability of running a full captive portal system like coova, which will give you all the features you need.

  • Modern Cisco WAPs can just increase their transmit power to “blanket” out any rogue wireless networks they detect.

    Our work Wi-Fi is set up this way. I had to have my LTE Router added to the list of “allowed” wireless networks on the wireless controller so that it didn’t get smothered.

  • We have a written policy that all students must agree to and sign before being allowed to use any ICT equipment. A breach such as this would warrant a discontinuation of all use of ICT equipment by that student whether personal or school owned, until further notice. That’s a minimum penalty.

    Smothering all wireless networks is fun, but I always like to find the culprit, and make an example. Time to learn to appreciate the gift you’ve been given. Besides, any school related websites only require a request to unblock, and we oblige.

    • And that’s why a whole generation will hate you. Congrats. I hope power mongering makes you happy as opposed to.. you know.. treating students like people.

      You can fight it for the rest of your life, and i’m sure you will take secret internal pleasure at taking these people aside and convincing them, the principle, and their parents that they are irresponsible and bad members of society while going home that same night and fapping it to some hardcore stuff on redtube… In reality they want what we all want, to be treated equally and as adults. The difference is, for most kids (until they are old enough), they’re forced to be there.. And people like you are all too aware of this fact.

      But no you’re right, using wifi to access say, 9gag or facebook definitely warrants taking all ICT equipment access off them, which can and will adversely affect their education.. Clearly, this will make them love school and want to do well.

      • Uh what? Way to jump to conclusions. I guess my comment wasn’t exactly detailed enough to make some proper judgement, but I’m just going to say you couldn’t be further from the truth and leave it at that.

  • Finding the culprit is usually an easy task as the name of the network is often their name but blocking access to such a thing is impossible in our school as we run the DER network as well as a private network for the school owned laptops and desktop (almost all of them are Macs) so filtering with one would disable the other.

    Regarding the proxy, I’ve used my personal hotspot on various occasions as the DET filter blocks access to authorisation servers such as the license server for Cubase.

    Selling WiFi seems pretty stupid to me, the range would only allow him to sell it to his mates, and who wants to rip off their mates? for the cost of the data usage, profit would be very small I’d imagine.

  • I’d also be very careful of your carrier’s Standard Form of Agreement. Most carry a clause that stipulates you may not re-sell the service to a third party – doing so constitutes a breach of contract and leaves you liable to have your connection terminated.

  • Couldn’t he just hide the SSID and periodically change the password?. Like yeah he’d be limited by distance from the AP and bandwidth but he could easily just limit himself to like 4 friends in class who help him pay for the data plan. Wouldn’t be making a profit though sadly.

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