The Top Mobility, Connectivity and Wireless Infrastructure Decisions CIOs Face

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June 01, 2013
Infrastructure
Russell Vest

Guests inherently expect some things at a hotel. They expect the lights to work when they flip the switch, water to flow from the faucet and in-room air conditioning to adjust to their needs. These infrastructure issues appear seamless to the guest, but require significant behind-the-scenes effort to ensure 100 percent guest satisfaction. 


The same is true of wireless infrastructure. Seamless commercial cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity is an integral part of the guest experience. Guests’ mobile connectivity requires a robust and propertywide, integrated communications network. However, unlike lighting, plumbing and air management infrastructures, many properties have limited commercial or cellular connectivity. This results in frustrated guests and, with the rise in social media, potential exposure to negative online sentiments.

Consider this: An arriving guest, John Doe, CEO, has just exited the airport taxi. He’s wrapping up a mobile call while completing check-in. The front desk manager hands him a memo confirming his group is waiting in the Evergreen parlor on the mezzanine. This is a critical investor meeting. Simultaneously, John receives a text from his executive assistant alerting him to an e-mail with a critical change in information for the meeting.  On his way to the mezzanine, John starts the e-mail download to his iPad® but hits a dead zone. Repeatedly, he tries downloading to no avail. We’re all familiar with the resulting negative reaction that follows at the front desk because John Doe is late, frustrated and now unprepared. As a seasoned traveler, he expected the same level of seamless mobile connectivity he had at the airport, in Starbucks and walking down the street.

The CIO Challenge
Today guests expect connectivity on multiple devices.  Some hotels address this by enabling guest device connection to in-room TVs and multimedia devices to provide a seamless at-home or at-work type of experience.

In the new landscape, CIOs need to provide guests with high-speed Internet access (HSIA). The hiccup of course is seamless access–a critical challenge hospitality CIOs face. Determining the most reliable and affordable technology solution available to meet guest mobility needs now and into the future is not easy.

Network Technology Choices
Many hospitality CIOs address this by first providing HSIA service with Wi-Fi. This is a logical choice because Wi-Fi is flexible, easy to manage and well accepted by guests and their devices. Equally important, Wi-Fi enables hotels to own, manage and deliver their own brand of wireless service. However, Wi-Fi has downsides. It requires significant capex investment and recurring opex by the hotel. It also misses the mark in addressing the seamless mobile voice and data connectivity required and frustrates guests with multiple levels of login and authentication.

Alternatively, hotels can investigate the value of providing a commercial-grade mobile or cellular service across the property. Commercial-grade networks are the same type of networks that guests experience from the existing outdoor networks prior to arrival at the property. When commercial mobile or cellular service is integrated throughout the facility, problems like those faced by John Doe, CEO, are avoided. Seamless connectivity issues related to voice and data are resolved.

Wi-Fi and commercial mobile or cellular technology can be optimized further. Today, providing an interoperable mobile/cellular network with Wi-Fi support is the boost many hospitality CIOs are seeking to offer guests. When both Wi-Fi and cellular networks are optimized, the guest experience is optimal. Together these technologies deliver a robust network capability to ensure the guest has the mobility experience they want. A properly designed interoperable, cellular and Wi-Fi network achieves expected results through the interoperability of the guest device. This ensures satisfaction for guests using different carriers and multiple devices, and helps to avoid dead zones even with large events.

Business Model Considerations
Of course, every network infrastructure choice comes with pros and cons in addition to strategic, financial and system management considerations. Because each hotel property is unique, what makes sense for one venue might not make sense for another. Beyond budget alone, geography, carrier limitations, patron expectations, existing wireless infrastructure, IT staff size, property design and the competitive landscape, among other things will be factors in the choice. Accordingly, these three business model options are the most common:

  • Third party funded approach: A method growing in popularity is to enlist the support of a third party to design, implement, own and manage a fully integrated wireless network.   Working in partnership with the venue and all of the potential carriers that will use the network, the third party negotiates the optimal design strategy and approach to ensure that short-term and long-term venue and carrier needs are met. As a private owner of the network, the third party is also responsible for 24/7/365 network maintenance and management, which helps reduce the venue resource requirements.  This multiple-carrier option provides a cost-effective approach for the venue.
    Because the third party owns and operates the network, it is responsible for the initial funding of the network. The third party recoups its investment when carriers are signed to the network and pay a negotiated cost-effective fee to offer service on it.  This solution is cost effective due to the sharing of the same infrastructure and maintenance. 
  • The carrier-funded approach: This business model is more budget friendly and easiest to manage for smaller IT teams.  With this approach, one of the major wireless carriers has some underlying financial incentive to fund the implementation of a wireless network in the facility. In some areas, this may be because one carrier may want to provide its users with seamless coverage, at the expense of users of competing carrier services. Therein lies the rub. With a carrier-funded business model, only those of your guests that use that single carrier will benefit from seamless voice and data connectivity.
  • The hotel funded approach: When a hotel decides to fund and manage its own network there is usually a well-experienced IT team behind the scenes. This choice is typically made because the venue desires complete management and control of the wireless infrastructure. There are many rewards that come with having choices. From the type of technology used, to the infrastructure design, implementation and management, not to mention more control over how carriers use and access the network. A hotel funded system also provides assurances that the guest mobile and data connectivity experience will be exactly as designed by the IT team. However, there are other issues and considerations. Cost is certainly a factor. It takes deep pockets and considerable front-end funds to support the design and implementation of wireless infrastructure. Likewise, soliciting and managing carrier involvement presents a unique set of challenges. Ideally, multiple carriers are desired, but, there is no blanket approach for how each carrier resolves integrating with the network. Managing these issues takes expertise, relationships, patience, time and creativity. Equally important to consider are the ongoing maintenance and management costs and the specialized IT staffing requirements to ensure that the technology, design and approach of the network will see the property through its infrastructure needs today and into the future.

Understandably, meeting guest mobility and connectivity needs is a complex undertaking. However, knowing the various technology options and business model approaches available can provide an excellent head start in determining which strategies and tactics will work best in your facility.

Russell Vest is executive director of business development for ExteNet Systems.

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