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The Hotel Bandwidth Evolution

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March 01, 2013
Bandwidth & Wi-Fi
Trevor Warner

The bandwidth evolution has cycled very quickly. It was only 10 to 15 years ago that hotels installed their first networks so guests could send and receive email. In prior innovations in the hotel industry you could converse with a generation that was not employed in hospitality when the innovation was implemented but when it comes to the Internet in hotels, we were all around when it started. To date it’s been a bit of a stair step affect as we made small changes onsite to meet the technology changes of our guests. Something would change, we would make a small adaption and it would level out for a bit. Now we face what is no longer a step up but a steep incline. The hotel bandwidth evolution is about to go from caveman to spaceship.

Bandwidth has always been an issue and demands have always been in the growth incline. The issue for hotels now is that the acceleration of guest bandwidth demands is at an all-time high. The reason for this super acceleration of bandwidth demands is one simple and often over used word, the cloud.  Unlike the cloud discussion as it relates to business practices, software as a service, etc, the personal cloud affects all of us and is part of our daily routine. Consider any application such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Netflix, texting, IM, Skype and you find consumers communicating, entertaining and living through the cloud.  More and more of our lives is being lifted to the cloud and it’s accelerating.   

There would not be a cloud if there were not consumers.  So like the argument of what comes first, the carrot or the horse, the users are growing significantly which is leading the demand for the cloud.  Based on a report from LRG on 9/24/2012,  90 percent of all households now have at minimum a computer and a broadband connection. For the experts in this field this growth from 2004 was impossible to obtain and yet it happened. In 2012 we experienced a 44 percent jump in smartphone sales and now 45 percent of all mobile phones sold worldwide are smart phones. By 2016, this number will almost double. Tablet sales are expected to hit $240 million this year which will exceed laptop sales by 10 percent. In the United States, tablet sales surpassed laptop sales in 2012. Considering that tablets have only really been around since early 2010 it’s difficult to put in perspective the cultural significance of this massive adoption. Bottom line, more and more devices are being shipped that are built specifically to work with the personal cloud. More users, more devices and more demand all equal more bandwidth. 

Hospitality Upgrade has reported in the past that Google is experimenting in Kansas City.  The experiment is going so well that Google has expanded the product offering to more fiberhoods surrounding Kansas City. While Google does not have the money to do this nationwide (yet) the real purpose of the experiment is going to plan: push the ISPs to improve. Google offers 1 GIG for $80.  Verizon FiOs is now offering 305 MG, Comcast 300 MG, Time Warner 100 MG, and AT&T U-Verse 45 MG. All of these providers are now working with technologies that will at minimum double that offering. The cloud, the users, the devices and now the bandwidth have created an expectation for service that now checks in to your hotel. 

Hotels face two primary issues when delivering bandwidth to the guest. The first, and easiest to solve, is the bandwidth leaving the property.  Most hotels have solved this by adding fiber.  Fiber is the best possible solution given it’s expandability to 2 MG and reliability.  It has also become much easier to purchase as companies continue to lay down dark fiber while other companies who notoriously sat on their dark fiber for future possibilities are not selling it in a tight economy. Although fiber prices are falling per megabyte,  guest bandwidth demand is outpacing the price drop so monthly cost will continue to rise to support guest demands.  Fiber provides the ability to meet guest demands. If the hotel can’t get fiber, that’s a problem but still not impossible.  There are other technologies such as fixed wireless, MetroE and load balancing that allow the hotels to be scalable to meet guest needs.

The biggest change in bandwidth will be the migration to billing as a utility. While electricity, gas and water (utilities) are billed based on usage bandwidth is still bought by the size of the pipe. Carriers are shifting to a different strategy offering large pipes but only billing based on usage. The conversion to bandwidth as a utility may solve the biggest issue, the size of the bandwidth pipe. In theory, this change also makes billing more efficient. Typically a bandwidth pipe is not fully utilized during the day time or early morning hours even though a property is paying for the full amount of bandwidth that pipe offers. In shifting to usage billing, the high demand times of a guest (in the evening) or a conference group can be met because of the larger pipe but little to nothing will be paid for the times of the day when the Internet has low usage. This efficiency would keep guests satisfied while not destroying a hotel’s current budget. The critics of the utility method believe that the usage by the guests will far outweigh the idle time during other periods of the day. It also makes it difficult to budget when you have no history of how to budget a formerly static line item. In reality this is uncharted territory and we don’t know. Usage is growing so rapidly that any history of usage patterns during seasons or events would not apply. For now, the upside may outweigh the unknown. The industry needs bigger pipes and it has a history with paying for usage-based services so  this could be a welcomed change for most hotels. 

The second and more difficult issue when delivering bandwidth to the guest is the internal bandwidth of the network. If you ever have had a guest complain of a slow connection, the issue could be his computer, the connection to the network, the network, the amount of bandwidth, the Internet provider or his desired landing spot on the Internet. This seems like simple troubleshooting. For IT readers this issue is a daily concern. For the non-IT reader the discussion can get very technical. Here is the abridged version: first came wireless B, then G, then N, next is AC. Each evolution was a step forward in bandwidth between the device and the wireless network and the communication technology. The dilemma in hotels is that the better throughput (bandwidth) the higher the hertz (Hz), and the higher the Hz, the less signal penetration through the walls. The networks installed today were built for yesterday or today’s technology and will not communicate with tomorrow’s technology or the speed or language at which tomorrow’s technology communicates. Hotel networks are no longer static but instead a living network that needs to be updated and adapted to the guest technology. Unfortunately there are no options. To keep guest scores up and to sell and maintain rooms, the guest connection needs to be seamless and at an expectation based on experience. To accomplish this positive experience, hotels must reinvest in their networks on an annual basis to insure that they meet guest expectations.
A shorter version of this article would have been titled, “You Need More Bandwidth,” but whether it is a discussion of G versus N, fiber versus load balancing, or any of the other acronym topics, the reality is that the hotel industry is in the game of connecting the guest to the Internet. The Internet is now an integral part of our culture and it takes bandwidth to make that connection. 

Trevor Warner is the president of Warner Consulting Group and can be reached at trevorwarner@warnerconsultinggroup.com or at (614)486-4636.

©2013 Hospitality Upgrade
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Wi-Fi. I Was Wrong.
By Jeffrey Stephen Parker

Five years ago I was positive that the advent of fourth generation (4G) mobile networks would usher in the end to guest Wi-Fi networks in hotels; I was wrong, incredibly wrong. Guest Wi-Fi networks are more important today then they ever have been, some would argue that good Internet access is more important than hot water or ESPN. The biggest factors contributing to this are the way carriers are charging for data and the proliferation of Wi-Fi devices without 4G capabilities.

We can blame Steve Jobs. iMania kicked off an unexpected storm, the voracious appetite for mobile data reached heights of which were never thought possible. AT&T was immediately impacted, its networks could not handle the sheer amount of volume the iGeneration was demanding, and it changed charging models to monetize the now scarce resource. Instead of unlimited data plans, carriers now are metering usage and charging for additional gigabytes or throttling data to lower speeds, causing guests to augment their mobile data with a hotel property’s Wi-Fi. AT&T has even taken steps of buying hospitality Internet providers Wayport and SuperClick to increase its Wi-Fi footprint and offload more data from its mobile networks. Over half of the mobile phones in the United States are smartphones, and the ratio is higher for people who travel, each of these devices have a low power Wi-Fi antenna that is constantly looking for a network with which to connect.

Tablets and e-readers are taking over. iPads, Androids, Windows, Kindles and Nooks are everywhere and most do not have mobile data so they need your Wi-Fi to connect to the world. Like smartphones, tablets have weaker antennas and this wreaks havoc on a hotel’s networks. Hotel usage models have been turned inside-out and upside-down. Five years ago having coverage for one device per room was considered more than adequate, now we are seeing two to three or more connections per room. Some weekends the Denver Magnolia Hotel (246 rooms) has 400-500 connected devices on the network. 

At Magnolia we are building out the networks again, replacing older technology designed to handle the higher power antennas in laptops and 20-30 connections per access point, with equipment enabling hundreds of connections per access point and ready to handle the lower power antennas in smartphones and tablets. We have contracted for more bandwidth at each hotel, and are starting to charge guests that want more speed a premium. LTE 4G is the latest and greatest, and in some markets it is faster than the bandwidth a hotel can offer at its highest pay tier. However, I will not be predicting the obsolescence of hotel wireless networks this time. Plan on upgrading your network every four to five years just to keep up with the march of technology.

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