It’s Time to Call in Arnold, SkyNet is Right Around the Corner.

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October 15, 2015
Device Proliferation
Jeffrey S Parker

Five years ago I stepped up to the podium at HITEC and discussed the number of wireless devices people were carrying; at that point I had four — five if you counted the access point I was carrying — and that was a big deal. Having unpacked my go bag recently, I did a tally and I am carrying 10 to 12 connected devices in some situations.

Right now in my bag I have:

+ Company-issued cell phone
+ Personal cell phone
+ Bluetooth headset
+ Bluetooth speaker/speakerphone
+ Laptop (yes I still carry at least one laptop)
+ Tablet
+ Fitbit
+ Garmin Fitness Watch
+ Amazon Fire Stick
+ Selfie stick (I know, I hear your snickers)
+ Cannon® PowerShot SX60 camera

All of these devices communicate wirelessly, some in Bluetooth (2.4gHz) and some via Wi-Fi (2.4gHz or 5 gHz), and all are making it increasingly harder to operate a wireless HSIA network in a hotel.

And then there are the hotel team members and systems: even if you are not issuing one, all of your team members have a cell phone, and most of them are carrying one that has Wi-Fi. Plus, we are putting more and more devices into service that touch Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and/or ZigBee:

+ Rapid response device
+ Convenience bar
+ Televisions
+ Bluetooth alarm clock (let’s talk about security nightmares)
+ Property management system
+ Energy management
+ Cameras and life safety
+ Door locks
+ Point of sale
+ Beacons
+ In-room controls
+ Inventory systems
+ Water treatment
+ Commercial HVAC

Five years ago an Internet take rate of 80 percent was unheard of, and now rates of 200 percent are typical (the take rate = the number of connected devices divided by the number of occupied rooms). Even with a fantastic network, hotels are doing little more than treading water to keep up.

Boom, now comes the Internet of things (IoT); everything from your car (likely already sending Snapchats to the cute red truck at the park and ride) to your dishwasher, to your laundry detergent and the menus at the restaurant are connected. I even saw someone with a suitcase that had built-in wireless tracking so he could use his smartphone to see if his bag actually was on the same plane. Skynet is coming, and we need to be prepared.

How is this Going to Work?
For IoT to work, we need the next-generation wireless network (Gen5), and it’s a doozy. Gen5 will be an envelope standard for many wireless technologies including Bluetooth, 802.11bganac, some LTE, 4G and others. This network will not only be superfast (remember when a 14.4 kbps modem was superfast?), but it will have very, very low latency, which is much more important than speed when you are in a self-driving car. Honestly, do you really want a self-driving car when the networks cannot buffer your YouTube video consistently?

I won’t belabor what you already know, the trick to building any great network is building a robust network.

No longer can hotels prepare to invest in new HSIA/Wi-Fi every four to five years. We need to seriously start budgeting for no more than every three years as the technology is evolving too quickly. 802.11b to 802.11g took six years to see a major impact, and 802.11n was four more before it was dominant. We are really just seeing the impact and need for wide coverage in the 5Ghz spectrum (much faster, much shorter range) and 802.11ac is knocking on the door. Plan on at least 25 percent or more of devices at your operations being 802.11ac capable in the next 12 months (my new phone already is).

And new access points are not enough, you need backbone; the throughput is going to keep increasing and your old 3COM 10/100 switch is not going to handle it. Even if every connection is limited to 25 mbps, the older switching hardware cannot handle more than 100 or 200 mbps total, if that.

Durable Goods and The Internet of Things
The mobile industry has figured it out; you, you juggernaut of all things advanced, are going to get a new whizbang super phone every 14 months, and the average consumer will last just longer than two years. Even if you calculate the used market which has phones another two years, the average smartphone has four years or less of active life. Plus, smartphones are seemingly constantly receiving updates and patches to fix problems and vulnerabilities. With the churn rate, it seems that every time a new issue occurs with a phone, particularly a security or privacy one, a patch is released within a week, if not in a couple days.
 
Contrast that to the lifecycle of durable goods, like your walk-in coolers, ice machines and linen dryer, where the average life is 10 years or more (I know we can put a new dryer off for one more year to make the Capex budget). It’s going to be great when your chief engineer can sit at his desk and see at a glance every PTAC, each washing machine and the current temperature of the freezer in the prep kitchen. What happens when the minibar in room 1649 needs a software update? What is the patch development for equipment with a decade or more of life span? What happens when a vulnerability in an 11-year-old Wi-Fi thermostat is hacked and exposes your guests to attack, or your HVAC claims to need a new filter every week or it shuts off?


For the IoT to work, and work right, there needs to be a commitment from the vendor community to keep updating and patching for the lifecycle of the equipment. This also means clear, dead simple, indicators that the updates are ready and needed.

I am going to continue to find new wireless devices to carry. I have a long established tradition here, and I really believe the Wi-Fi alarm clock is going to happen (imagine every clock in your hotel set to the right time, and every alarm cleared on checkout). You need to think, what are the implications of having my bottles of Glenfiddish 15 getting hacked to only show 50 percent of the pour rate? What happens when HotSOS tells Mike that he needs to unplug 200… well, you get the idea. If you are upgrading your HSIA network today, you will need to do it one more time before Gen5, which is slated to be ratified in 2020. Technology is moving so fast, SkyNet is here. Get ready, it’s going to be an interesting ride.

JEFFREY STEPHEN PARKER, CHTP, is the vice president of hotel technology for Interstate Hotels & Resorts.

 
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