IOT – Closer than You Think

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April 04, 2016
Connectivity Trends
Dan Phillips - dphillips@dare2i.com

The IoT is much more than just wearables.
What is required to satisfy the guest of today and tomorrow?

I remember sitting in an old wooden chair in the linoleum-floored kitchen of my grandparents’ home in New London, Conn., as a 5-year-old listening to Paul Harvey on the transistor radio atop the General Electric refrigerator. Some of his best stories were shared from a series called, “The Rest of the Story.” For these stories, he would start at the end, telling you what had happened, and then, he would go back to page 1, and start from the beginning. I’d like to borrow that story-telling method for this article.
John Smith, the general manager of the new XYZ Hotel, has been called by a guest service agent to come meet an irate guest. The guest’s husband had to be taken by ambulance last night to the hospital and nearly died. Her husband had been wearing his night shirt which monitored his heart and was prescribed by his doctor, and when his heart went all a flutter (she’s too embarrassed to say what might have caused his heart to flutter), the night shirt was unable to notify either her personal tablet or his doctor. You see, his shirt wasn’t able to connect to the hotel Wi-Fi network, they had more than 10 devices between the two of them and the extra devices weren’t allowed access. Before she stomped out the front door, with the room credited back and 5 million loyalty points in tow, she said to the GM, “My God, you fool! It’s 2020, wake up and get this crappy hotel up to date with technology.”
And now, for the rest of the story…Page 1!

According to Gartner, there were 4.9 billion connected devices in the world in 2015. Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be five times as many at 25 billion connected devices. Just in wearables alone one can look at smartwatches, fitness trackers, head-mounted displays, clothing, jewelry, implants and ID/security devices. What will all of this do to the networks deployed in hotels?
For hotels, everything starts with what’s coming into the building. What type of circuits? What amount of bandwidth? What is required to satisfy the guest of today? Deployed Technologies CEO Darrin Hubbard said, “Depending on the hotel’s desire to charge for a guaranteed amount of bandwidth, the general rule we follow is an allocation of 10 MG per room. We always recommend redundant circuits that can be used for administrative and guest use.”
Virtual Management Presence CEO Martin Kwitschau agreed, “Guests may carry several devices, sharing that bandwidth. The connection should be synchronous, with no throttling, just a cap per guestroom. And there should be redundant circuits with auto failover.”
Experts agree that hotels must provide multiple circuits and multiple redundancies to survive. ICC Networking CEO Keith Alexis said, “Redundant circuits are mandatory in an age where more content, management and the general network architecture has expanded from premise-centric to cloud-centric. Being offline is no longer an option.”
Before all of that bandwidth finds its way to the guestroom and guest-owned devices, it goes through several pieces of equipment, of which the gateway (or comparable network device that manages the user sessions) might be the most important. Whether the hotel is using a dedicated gateway appliance to manage user sessions or a cloud-based authentication platform coupled with an on-property network appliance (e.g., Wi-Fi controller), specific functionality is necessary to succeed with today’s guests. From the property side, Starwood Hotels & Resort's Vice President of Brand and Guest Technology Brennan Gildersleeve provides some essential requirements to consider:
  • High availability, high resiliency and high network throughput
  • The ability to manage a very high number of simultaneous users and connected devices (thousands!)
  • DCHP, radius, multiple user interfaces, multiple HTTP redirects
  • An interface with the property management system (PMS) or back-end loyalty system to enhance guest personalization
  • Sufficient bandwidth management tools to enable control at the room and guest device level, to ensure all guests receive the correct or fair amount of bandwidth. 

Keith Konicki, senior hospitality technology consultant for Leap Networks, had a list of his own: Bandwidth shaping, advanced NAT, DNS proxy, arp spoofing, Web proxy server spoofing, ability to handle IPSEC through the NAT, PMS integration, secure management options, SNMP management, portal page redirect, XML interface and radius support.
All of the bandwidth in the world will not do a hotel any good without a sound cabling infrastructure. Whether building a new hotel, or renovating an old one, when discussing technology, and even before looking to interior design, a cabling plan meeting the technology needs of today and years from now must be designed. “Our new build hotels require CAT6 Ethernet or fiber to the room and generally a combination of in-room Wi-Fi access points and hallway access points to ensure proper signal strength and capacity throughout the entire building,” Gildersleeve said.
Another recommendation includes running spare cables when you have the opportunity. “Use CAT6 as a minimum, but (we) strongly consider GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) to the room,” Kwitschau said.
Offering an explanation on the differences between CAT6 and GPON, Hubbard said, “CAT6 is capable of supporting 10 GB, so based on current requirements, it has more than enough capacity to handle voice, video and Internet traffic. The bottleneck will occur at the service provider level. From a construction standpoint, CAT6 that is run from a telecom room on each floor (or every other) requires a great deal of cable, and routing can be an issue depending on the amount of conduit or available overhead in the corridors.’’ According to Hubbard, with the simpler overall fiber requirements, GPONs have gained in popularity. But he added, while the technology has advanced over the last 10 years it still has inherent benefits and challenges. “GPON can be lower in cost, the cost per ONT (optical network terminator) in each room is affordable, and provides the greatest flexibility for future applications of technology. However, GPON still requires power at the ONT location, fiber is sensitive to damage, and the type of network requires a different skill set for the IT staff,” he said.
Konicki added that fiber contributes to time and cost savings overall. “The total cost to deploy GPON tends to be less with new builds over 200 rooms; especially when you factor in the total cost of providing switches and related IDF environmental costs. However, the biggest saving comes once the hotel has fiber going to each guestroom and to every edge device, the hotel may not have to cable the hotel ever again.”
There has long been discussion on how best to serve the technological needs of guests in hotel rooms. Those on one side believe that hotels need to install as much technology wow factor stuff to impress guests and drive higher satisfaction. The other side argues implementing a strong and complimentary technology plan that enables guests to use their own devices, accessed simply.  In this light, PAN (personal area networks) has been the goal.
“As part of the Axiom Hotel project in San Francisco, we utilized the PON, installed by KOR Systems, to deliver a ‘home-like’ guest experience, delivering IPTV and screen mirroring for Android and AirPlay for iOS devices to the guestroom TV, aggregated on a personal area network,” said Kwitschau. “This gives each guest a secure connection that is uniquely theirs and only allows access to the resources associated with their room. When using features such as AirPlay mirroring to the TV, the PAN wrapper makes it feel like home.”
Many clients are demanding AirPlay and it will facilitate a PAN or private network to provide ultimate security. “TV manufactures are now providing PAN capabilities to pair devices for Bluetooth audio and other streaming services,” Hubbard said. “It can still be confusing to a guest to associate with multiple networks. I think this is still in its infancy and further applications need to be developed to bring it mainstream.”
As sitting co-chair of the PAN HTNG workgroup, Matthew FitzGerald, manager systems engineering - hospitality at Ruckus Wireless, said, “As 802.1X and hotspot 2.0 become a bigger part of guest authentication, the ability to apply a personal VLAN on a public SSID will remove requirement for Vanity SSID.”
If in just over three and a half years the number of connected devices in the world will quintuple and we await thousands of applications yet to be thought of; how do we prepare for this onslaught?
Hubbard summarized a recent case study: “Streaming is pushing up the requirements, but surprisingly it takes less bandwidth than one would think. We recently studied a 250-room hotel that we deployed in early 2015 with 500 MB (symmetrical) and at maximum capacity with un-throttled bandwidth. The hotel only peaked at 280 MB usage over a 5-day period with around 600 devices connected. There is no doubt the change in behavior for streaming content will force hoteliers to invest further in robust networks to deliver a great guest experience.”
While guests want the “home experience’’ while traveling, it can be a challenge for hotels. “Bandwidth demand continues to explode and video is at the forefront,” FitzGerald said. “Hotels will need to consider higher capacity WAN circuits, caching technology, improved services, up to date LAN switching and Wi-Fi, and proper design. But in a hotel client isolation, security and authentication can impact the ability to allow this experience. Backend services, gateways, authentication and the network itself has to be improved to provide the guest what they want, with ease and delight.”
The IoT is much more than just wearables, smartphones and tablets. It includes in-building devices such as HVAC, refrigeration, lighting, appliances and even cars, and by the way, Gartner says that there will be 6.4 billion connected devices by the end of this year!

Dan Phillips is owner of Dare to Imagine, a consulting firm specializing in hotel technology.  He can be reached at dphillips@dare2i.com.
 
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