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Wireless Networks: What’s Working and What’s Not!

Wireless Networks: What’s Working and What’s Not!

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October 25, 2017
Jeremy Rock - JRock@RockITgroup.com

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Hotel wireless networks have come a long way since hotels started deploying them in the late 1990s. What was once considered an amenity is now a necessity or an essential offering for hotels and resorts. The products have evolved and the expectation when you check into a hotel is that the property has wireless internet service and that more importantly, it works. Over the last number of years, the industry appears to have favored a few product manufacturers and has standardized its product offerings because of stability, up-time and network performance. The prevailing consensus is that these networks can be considered bulletproof from a performance perspective.
Given the targeted solutions deployed, the question arises as to why so many hotels and resorts are still struggling to provide effective wireless internet service at their properties. The answer likely lies in who is designing, installing and supporting the networks. Some key factors affecting the deployment of today’s wireless installations that properties should look for when selecting a wireless network provider are included below.
Network Design Considerations
With so many predictive and sophisticated modeling tools available in the marketplace, many of the leading wireless companies are able to provide effective designs for their preferred equipment manufacturers. So do models differ and why do the deployments vary? In many cases it has to do with cost or the use of existing cable infrastructure. However it usually comes down to the following key design criteria.
Placement of the Access Points  
The most prevalent design consideration is whether or not to place the access points in the guestrooms or in the corridors. While most providers and manufacturers prefer to place the access points in the guestrooms, there are a number of factors that influence this decision. These include performance, cost and room design or aesthetics.
Performance. With the move toward the 802.11ac standard, the requirement for a denser coverage is necessitated for the 5 GHz range. As such, many providers prefer to deploy access points in the guestroom so that they are able to “turn down” the signal strength and avoid interference with other access points. Others insist that they are still able to provide effective coverage using larger, more powerful access points placed in the hallways at a lower cost. Additionally, they do not have to enter the guestroom to service the devices when needed.
Costs. For hotels, all the costs involved must be factored and can be one of the largest areas of consideration. Depending on the layout of the building it may be less expensive to place larger, more powerful access points in the corridors to service multiple rooms. The potential cost of cabling and construction of things like patching, painting and access hatches, are all line items to be taken under consideration. Oftentimes in order to pull cable to the guestrooms, the rooms need to be taken out of order. As such, the loss of revenue from these rooms needs to be factored into the decision. 
Every budget has limitations. Capital funding for wireless network projects may be limited, and rather than forego the wireless upgrade, designs might be augmented. Often this can lead to leveraging existing cabling infrastructure to keep costs down and also allow for an easier upgrade and transition to the newer network equipment.
Design/Aesthetic. Lastly, architects and interior designers prefer that access points remain hidden from guests. There may be space limitations that may affect where these devices are placed. But there are also performance-related considerations that need to be factored as the placement of the devices directly affects signal strength.
Network Engineering
One of the key differentiators between network providers is the strength and depth of the engineering team. If the network is engineered and designed effectively then the foundation for stable and efficient communications can be established. RF engineering affects the design and placement of access points and the distribution of signal throughout areas of coverage. It also requires an in-depth knowledge of the various product offerings and how they propagate or distribute signal.
Network engineering affects the engineering of an IP network and its ability to distribute bandwidth. Often it involves the setup and configuration of VLAN’s, gateways, bandwidth management tools and network security requirements that include among other items, firewalls, remote access, etc. A strategic engineering network plan is critical to the operation of the network and the ability for the hotel or resort to function effectively.
Additionally, a knowledge of low voltage cabling design and installation is also an essential requirement. In most cases the RF engineering will dictate where an access point needs to be placed and will provide an effective understanding of how cabling is routed and to which distribution frame is critical to the overall integrated engineering of the network.
Once an effective network design and layout is engineered, it is important to deploy the equipment and network according to the design for the installation. A neat and professional installation of the equipment will not only go a long way to the overall support of the network but also the aesthetic appearance of the property, especially for outdoor devices.
Some brand standards call for the certification of both new and existing cabling to ensure that the network operates in a stable and consistent manner. Companies should conduct a wireless survey at the end of the installation to ensure that coverage meets brand or performance standards. This will involve in-depth signal testing and the creation of heat maps to detail the results of the testing. Any deficiencies should be documented and addressed. The property should receive complete as-built documentation and document details of the results of the tests and network setup.
Ongoing Support
Once a network is installed, how proactive is the company in supporting the needs of your guests and operational team? Does the company offer 24-hour monitoring and local support? What kind of management tools and dashboards are offered to monitor and manage your networks? Lastly, how are response times?
Your wireless network is a critical component of the service offering at your property. Partnering with a good wireless networking company is vital to the ongoing success of a hotel or resort. With mobile communications and services becoming an increasingly important component in our lives, it is essential that a property’s network is optimized and operational at all times. Not only are your guests dependent on its operation, so too are the hotels’ staffs. Don’t just pick the lowest cost provider because of the perceived impact to your budget and bottom line. Be sure to select the provider that is going to provide you with an effective network that will complement the needs of both your guests and operational team. Finally, remember that you are in the service industry, so select a partner that will provide the appropriate service and support for both the current and foreseeable future guest.
Jeremy Rock is the president of RockIT Group, a consulting firm specializing in a new development and refurbishment projects. He can be reached at JRock@RockITgroup.com. 

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