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IP Telephony: Wait and See

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October 01, 2001
Gene Pelletier

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of change in technology is the process and timing involved with moving from the current technology to the technology of the future. Make the move too soon and you run the risk of selecting the wrong technology–move too late and your competitors may leave you in their dust.

Today there is talk and some movement toward an exciting new technology known as IP. This same technology helps the Internet work so well. It allows a myriad of different computing devices to talk with one another almost seamlessly and inexpensively. It can also carry regular human voice. It promises many advantages over the variety of communications protocols used by devices installed in hotels today. But, virtually all the hotel systems installed today do not, and most cannot, use the new technology. This offers another challenge; do the benefits justify the investment in changing to a relatively new technology? And, if so, when and how should the technology be implemented?

What are the benefits of IP in a hotel environment, what is the investment required, when is the right time to make this investment and how can the change be accomplished in the least disruptive fashion? The short answers–Benefits? Few today, potentially many in the future. Investment? More today than later. Timing? 2004-2005. How? Evolutionary change.

The benefits include the promises of dramatically lower costs for long distance calling; a common protocol to communicate among many devices using common cabling within the hotel; and from the hotel to the outside world; the ability to enhance the administrative communications among properties and locations; a single system to provide voice, administrative data communications, guest high-speed Internet access, pay-per-view video, video conferencing and other services within the property; and a simpler system with fewer components and fewer inter-faces.

Taking Advantage of the Benefits Now - The Investment Risks
There are some things to consider such as if you have an existing property, most systems must be replaced or when building a new property, IP technology is relatively young so you run the risk of buying an IP solution that will not stand the test of time over the next few years.

There are also reliability and security issues that may still need to be addressed. The choices of IP products are limited and these are the early versions of even these products. You should always keep in mind that one characteristic of technology is that if you wait, the cost will go down. As with any technology in the early stages, there are multiple standards and quality issues that vary greatly. New technologies require new management methods such as new methods for traffic and resource management, new skills and training.

The Timing
Hitachi believes that implementation of full IP technology will, in fact, provide many benefits. We feel these early stages of the technology may be appropriate for early adapters who are willing to also take the associated risks. Hitachi also feels that the convergence is best served as an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary process. An evolutionary process is one that will protect, as much as possible, the imbedded investment the hotelier has in systems, skills, training and management methods. An evolutionary process allows systems to be phased in as reliability, cost, functionality, skill sets and proven performance begin to become reality.

I believe that these issues will be fully resolved as they relate to hospitality industry applications in the 2004-2005 timeframe; however, it is time to begin the evolution now.

How to Begin Implementation of the Technology
Some IP technology has proven applications within the hospitality environment today. One such example is guest access to high-speed Internet. Another is high-speed video conferencing for meeting rooms. Hoteliers today can purchase a system such as Hitachi’s HGX5000i PBX that can incorporate the ability to provide these services to guestrooms and meeting rooms. Even older HGX systems can be easily upgraded to allow these services to be implemented today while protecting your existing investment.

Pay-per-view movies of DVD quality can be implemented over your existing in-building wire once you have made these minimal changes to your existing Hitachi HGX PBX. As more applications such as IP telephones in the guestroom, convergence of communications with guest amenity systems such as mini-bars, locks, environmental control and wireless devices become cost effective and reliable, communications system will evolve to support these functions. Hitachi believes the hotelier must take advantage of new technology to improve guest satisfaction and reduce costs; however, this should be done in a manner that produces minimal risk and protects existing investments.


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