Hospitality Technology Leaders Turning Attention to Converged Digital Networks

  • LG Electronics
  • 07.02.07
Cost-effective delivery of Internet-protocol television (IPTV) to hotel rooms is on the not-so-distant horizon, thanks to a new technology concept announced by lodging industry leaders LG Electronics Inc. and LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation.

Speaking last week at the 2007 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC®), Richard M. Lewis, senior vice president for LG Electronics’ U.S. R&D Lab, discussed the ultra thin client (UTC) approach to IPTV, which will allow hotel operators to capitalize on the elusive promise of a converged network’s lower infrastructure and maintenance costs.

“Forward-thinking technologists in the lodging industry have been seeking the Holy Grail of an integrated hotel communications infrastructure where video, voice and data are all carried on a single wire,” Lewis said during the HITEC technical session entitled, “IPTV: Hope or Hype?” He continued, “Although network costs are declining as technology matures, expensive in-room devices have been barriers to implementing IPTV in hundreds of hotel rooms.”
In response, LG Electronics developed the UTC, a card combining an IP interface and DTV modulator, according to Lewis, who highlighted the UTC’s benefits:
  • The cost is low, because the UTC only requires a bare-bones IP infrastructure.
  • The UTC can support advanced graphics and other features created in the headend.
  • Only the headend (not the in-room device) needs to be updated to add new TV features in all guestrooms.
  • Legacy RF-only digital TVs can be updated to IPTV without expensive, cumbersome external set-top boxes.

In his tutorial, Lewis explained the basic costs of a converged network–the network elements themselves, such as routers and switches, and the in-room device.  “As technology matures, the network elements are falling in price and growing in capabilities, but the in-room elements have remained expensive,” he said.

These in-room elements have traditionally been set-top boxes (STBs) running layers of software called middleware.  This middleware has allowed system providers to provide high-resolution interactive menus and other computer-like features and, in some cases, required the use of actual personal computers. 

Efforts have been made to reduce the required computing power and software to reduce the cost.  These efforts have been referred to as thin clients but often ended up as either under-powered or under-featured solutions.

“With the introduction of the ultra thin client, a new breed of cost-effective IP delivery has been born,” Lewis said.  “A UTC not only reduces the required in-room investment but also provides legacy displays a cost-effective connection to the converged network of the future. 

The UTC is a new approach to IPTV that utilizes the headend to provide all the high-resolution features of a standard IP system but without the high in-room cost.  The LG-developed UTC system complements LodgeNet’s robust IP headend technology.

A simple card that can be installed in any commercial-grade television from LG Electronics, the UTC contains both an IP interface and an RF digital television (8-VSB) modulator.  Video and audio created in the headend is streamed to the room. The IP packets are received by the UTC and converted into a digital television signal.
While the companies did not announce availability or pricing information at HITEC 2007, Lewis indicated that initial field tests of the UTC IPTV solution for hotels are planned for later this year.
LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation is one of the leading providers of media and connectivity services designed to meet the unique needs of hospitality, healthcare and other visitor and guest-based businesses. LodgeNet serves more than 1.8 million hotel rooms representing 9,300 hotel properties worldwide in addition to healthcare facilities throughout the United States. LodgeNet’s services include on-demand movies, games, television programming, music and information, along with subscription sports programming and high-speed Internet access. LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation owns and operates businesses under the brands: LodgeNet, LodgeNetRX, On Command and StayOnline.

LG Electronics USA, Inc. is the North American subsidiary of LG Electronics, Inc., a $48.5-billion (2006 consolidated worldwide revenues) global force in consumer electronics, home appliances and mobile communications. In the United States, LG Electronics sells a wide range of digital display and digital media products, digital appliances and mobile phones under LG’s “Life’s Good” marketing theme. LG’s Commercial Products division, based in Lincolnshire, Ill., serves the lodging and hospitality, systems integration, digital signage, education, business, industrial, healthcare and government markets.

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