How to setup an Internet Cafe

 

 

© 19 March 2010 by UseMyNet

 

This how to will discuss the hardware and software necessary to setup a Cyber Cafe and the options for billing customers or providing a timer to limit their on-line time. We will look at the requirements for both wired and wireless (WiFi) access.

Computers

Most Cafe will have several PCs for customers to use, they may also provide WiFi access for customers with laptops. We won't look at the specification of the PCs in this howto. The only real requirement is that the PC has a Network Interface Card (NIC).

Network and Internet Connection

There are many ways to provide an Internet Connection to you Cafe and it will depend on where you are located. Typical methods include ADSL, Cable or Fibre Optic connection. In the United Kingdom the majority of Internet connections are ADSL. You will require a network router and a network switch, although sometimes these are combined into a single unit. The network switch has several ports to plug in a Ethernet cable which runs to each PC, you will need a network switch with as many ports as you have PCs in your Cafe. Typical network switches have 4,8,12,24 or 48 ports. The type of network router you need depends on your Internet connection and may even be provided free of charge by your Internet Service provider. The main requirement for the router is that it is powerful enough to handle the traffic that you intend to put through it.

Internet Cafe Software

There are many companies that offer Internet Cafe software. Typically this software is client-server software. The server software will be installed on the administrator's computer. The other computers have the cafe software client software installed; Then the server software controls various functions of the client PC such as the amount of time allowed on-line and other advanced features such as controlling printing.

Examples of Internet Cafe software include:

Cafe software is a very competitive business and there are many good products. Products are easy to install and offer many features. There are some points to consider when making your choice of system; Some Cafe software is advertising supported, this means the client software will display advertisements on each of your computers for the benefit of the software company. Some software provides just a simple timer, others provide more advanced billing such as PayPal integration. Most software is licensed based on the number of PCs used, so if you increase the number of PCs in your Cafe you may need to increase the number of licenses also.

WiFi

Many Internet Cafe businesses want to offer WiFi access for customers with laptops. Here the client-server software is not suitable as it is impractical to install the client software on each customers laptop. In these circumstances the solution is to use "captive portal" software. This software runs on a PC or WiFi router and can intercept the traffic from the laptop and redirect it to a "landing page" where the customer is asked for payment or authentication.
Typically the software works as follows:
  1. Customer connects to the WiFi network of the Internet Cafe.
  2. Customer launches web browser and enters desired site (for example www.indiatimes.com).
  3. Customer is redirected to the "landing page" instead of the desired site.
  4. Customer is prompted for and enters access code
  5. Customer's laptop is authenticated for the session time
  6. Customer's web browser is redirect to desired site (for example www.indiatimes.com).

Examples of Captive Portal software include:

UseMyNet Cafe Software.

The UseMyNet software was originally developed as WiFi Hotspot Software to run on the Linksys WRT54GL WiFi router. This router is very popular all over the word because it is very easily customised to do many different tasks. The UseMyNet software is a Captive Portal implemented in Linux iptables. It does not require any additional servers and is very small so it can run directly on the router. The UseMyNet software provides a simple timer controlled by access codes which can be generated one at a time or in bulk. As the Linksys WRT54GL router has 4 LAN ports it is possible for a small Cyber Cafe to be setup with 4 PCs and WiFi access just from a single WRT54GL router running UseMyNet software. We offer our original UseMyNet software as a firmware image for the WRT54GL router, this is the ideal solution for International customers as they can instantly download this software and install it on a WRT54GL which they have purchased locally. Typically a Linksys WRT54GL can be purchased for GBP £45 and the cost of our software is GBP £39.99. We offer pre-installed routers for our customers in the United Kingdom for £149.99. We also offer our customers pre-printed code books and code generator software. The pre-printed code books can be left in a cash register or behind the bar and the code tickets can be given out or sold as necessary. The code generator spreadsheet allows our customers to print their own codes in bulk and then upload the valid codes to the unit.

UseMyNetVM

Our new development is to take the UseMyNet software and redesign it to work on PCs. We had many customers ask us for a PC based solution to compete with other Cafe Timer Software products. We decided to keep the Linux operating system and run it as a virtual machine on a PC. Our customers install a product called VMWare Workstation or VMWare Server on a PC with 2 networks cards. One network card is connected to the customers Internet connection and the other to the client PCs or to a WiFi access point running in bridge mode. They then run the UseMyNetVM (Virtual Machine) and it controls Internet access with the use of access codes, bandwidth limiting and download limits. This system is also ideal for a simple Internet Café as it does not require client software to be installed or updated on each PC. Unlike other software UseMyNetVM does not place restrictions on how many computers can be attached, 1 or 100 it is the same price. The UseMyNet VM is also available as an instant download and is priced at £199.00.

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