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Connectivity Study: What CIOs Think Is Important in 2019 and Beyond

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October 21, 2019
Connectivity Trends
Mark G. Haley

Hospitality Upgrade recently surveyed a select sample of hospitality industry technology leaders for their views on the high-speed internet access world. These leaders are an august group: 44 percent holding “C-level” titles (CIO or CTO), another 29 percent are vice presidents and 27 percent hold director level roles.

These senior executives represent a great cross-section of the industry. They’re slightly skewed toward the luxury segment: 54 percent of respondents represent hotel companies servicing the mid-scale and upscale segments as one might expect. A full 29 percent work in the luxury segment, with only 8 percent in upper-upscale and 10 percent in mid-scale/economy brands. Small brands comprise 37 percent of respondents, with large brands and small-to-medium management companies tied for second at 21 percent each. Leaders from larger management companies make up 15 percent of the sample and resort companies 6 percent. All in all, it’s a broad and deep sample, if a bit skewed towards luxury. And who doesn’t like luxury?

1. What are the key metrics you look at to evaluate the health and utlization of a hotel HSIA service?

2. What proportion of properties will see bandwidth upgrades in 2020? Added to this is a follow-up reuest for comments on what drives investments in bandwidth.

3. What are some of the applications riding on your guest networks today?

4. What applications do you expect to add next year?

5. Do you see 5G and similar technologies impacting the value of HSIA services? This question also has an invitation for comments.

6. What are your investment priorities for 2020?

Let’s dig into what these industry leaders have to tell us about their HSIA services.

What are the key metrics you look at to evaluate the health and utilization of a hotel HSIA service?

Not surprisingly, the CIOs’ most important metric is getting information from guests in a structured and replicable manner. Tracking bandwidth consumed versus available is the next most important, providing insight as to the need for bandwidth increases. Social media, another way to hear from guests, is amplified by the public visibility of most social media and review channels. Total connections and connections POR provide insight as to how much the service is used for the time period in question. After that, the perceived value of the generally available metrics falls off, with the operating system mix value falling into the “nice to know” category.

In what percentage of your properties/rooms do you expect to increase bandwidth capacity in 2020? 

This finding suggests that by now, hotel companies are on a THREE-YEAR cycle of upgrading bandwidth. Most properties either have upgraded in the last year or two, or need an upgrade next year as demand continues to rise. The question above is paired with a follow-up inviting free-form responses:

“What drives a decision to invest OPEX in more bandwidth?”
A staggering 81 percent of respondents offered verbatim explanations of what leads them to seek a bandwidth upgrade in any given hotel. The vast majority were some variation of guest satisfaction, guest expectations or increased guest demand. This finding is wholly consistent with the answers for question one regarding key metrics.

The second largest group of responses cite quantitative measures of consumption, such as bandwidth consumed versus available, which is also consistent with the question one findings. Third, a number of comments cite contracts on three-year cycles, with the ability to renew for more bandwidth at lower or little additional cost for each new term. This jibes with question two results: Roughly 40 percent of properties are looking at bandwidth upgrades in 2020. The 60 percent that aren’t upgrading presumably did so in 2018 or 2019.

One of the interesting outliers said: “This isn’t an OPEX decision; the pipe to the hotel is big enough. It’s bandwidth to the individual room that requires more access points or greater frequency to improve throughput per room.” This is the only comment that reflects the need to properly engineer a guest Wi-Fi network to effectively service all applications riding on it. Surprisingly, few commenters cite brand standards as a reason to buy more bandwidth.
What additional applications do you currently use for your in-room networks today? What do you expect to add in 2020?

These questions can be best answered by combining the two responses to get a picture of total demand for given applications, like IPTV, panic buttons or centralized network administration.

This chart shows some truly fascinating findings. Anyone that doesn’t have more mature technologies now intends to get them next year. These include BYOD, IPTV and staff communications, but don’t extend to a significant number of IP telephony investments. Surprisingly, energy management/room automation doesn’t show as broadly adopted today, but responses project a big lift in 2020.

The biggest percentage increase in planned adoptions for 2020 is panic buttons, driven by the industrywide “5 Star Promise” commitment to staff safety. Tracking applications for people, hotel property and guest luggage, show the next-largest percentage increase in 2020 along with internet of things and voice activated devices. 
In what year do you see 5G and other carrier-grade wireless technologies diminishing the value of hotel HSIA services?

The survey is clear: Half the CIOs believe 5G will never diminish the import of hotel HSIA services. As with the question on what drives increased bandwidth spend, the comments are even more revealing than the quantitative responses.

Most respondents don’t see 5G replacing Wi-Fi services either due to lengthy deployment cycles aimed at major cities or the inability of the high-frequency 5G signal to penetrate buildings effectively. Quite a few say 5G services will carry a premium cost and be metered, thus driving guests to use HSIA services. Or they simply dismiss it as marketing hype.

Others take a more nuanced view. “I believe 5G will no more replace hotel Wi-Fi than 4G did, although some of us thought it would,” writes one participant. While another notes: “I think that we are starting to see the effect already with LTE and unlimited data plans.” Yet another comments: “I think it will be minimal as the newer HSIA technologies are only limited by the internet bandwidth provided to them.”

Clearly, although there’s a strong opinion that HSIA is here to stay, the logic for believing so varies widely.

Please rank your investment priorities for 2020.

The CIO rankings make it clear that the top two priorities are HSIA infrastructure (routers, switches, access points, cabling, etc.) and HSIA bandwidth upgrades – by a long shot. In-room entertainment and closely related screencasting/BYOD services are all but tied for third place, suggesting that a great entertainment experience is important to our guests. Clearly lower priorities include room automation (something that tends to be done in renovations and new builds), IP telephony and voice-activated devices.

Many thanks to the industry leaders who shared their wisdom for this survey. Also thanks to Cloud5 Communications for sponsoring this valuable industry research.

©2019 Hospitality Upgrade 
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent. For permission requests, call 678.802.5302 or email info@hospitalityupgrade.com.

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