Unlocking Guest Digital Engagement, Part 2

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June 18, 2018
Connectivity Trends

Our dependence and demand for Wi-Fi continues to significantly increase with greater guest expectation. Travelers want faster, more reliable, personalized and secure connections everywhere and at any time. To support more people, more devices and more bandwidth in more desired places, we’ll need to continue to invest more in our Wi-Fi ecosystems to deliver seamless connectivity everywhere, thereby allowing brands and travelers to communicate more efficiently, and offer a more personalized experience. Ultimately, we all want to experience (and create) that unique deep personal engagement.
Continuing our series that began in the Summer 2017 and Spring 2018 editions of Hospitality Upgrade, we continue to focus attention on guest digital engagement with Wi-Fi. Here we’ll attempt to connect the dots between central authentication and auto authentication. Last summer we explained that central authentication was born out of standards surrounding Hotspot 2.0 from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Central authentication is simply cloud-based authentication of customer credentials that allows businesses like hotels to capture a guest credentials and/or MAC address and store it for future authentication(s). Taking it a step further we’ll discuss the business value and customer satisfaction brought by an auto authentication solution that is the offspring of Hotspot 2.0 (i.e., Passpoint).
With the arrival of the “digital reality,” businesses must shift their focus from technology to opportunity. While every brand is doing something about improving guest experience, an inevitable trend is that all businesses will have to offer their guests free, reliable and fast Wi-Fi. However, most business executives are still struggling to get answers from their IT when they ask, “what value does free Wi-Fi bring to the table?”  After interviewing many experts on automatic authentication in hotel brands and service providers, we found that the most unsettled question is finding the business value propositions for auto authentication.

Guest expectations have reached a level where constant connectivity is the norm, whether in their home, their place of business or public venues like stadiums, malls, restaurants and hotels. Hotels are now expected to provide Wi-Fi connectivity with few barriers. Guests don’t want to log in every time they enter the guestroom, the lobby, even the fitness center. In our bridge article this past spring, we talked about how central authentication and auto-authentication technologies like Passpoint, allow businesses to remember a customer’s devices and/or credentials, and seamlessly connect them on their return. Passpoint is broadly deployed now by major cable companies, and many of the hospitality service providers we interviewed support Passpoint. Consumers are slowly becoming familiar with the technology as they encounter Passpoint-enabled hotspots throughout their daily lives including XFINITY, Optimum Wi-Fi Passpoint, TWC WiFi-Passpoint, and others.
If hoteliers work with their service providers to adopt and deploy this technology, what’s in it for them?

First off, if you’re providing guests with a seamless, secure Wi-Fi connection to a fast and reliable network, you can begin to gain insights on their activities, their location, and how long they are connected. Integrating this with a brand’s loyalty program can be very powerful. Of course, privacy issues must be addressed, and guests must agree to the integration with their loyalty profile, but when that hurdle is crossed the marketing strategies really come into play. You know your loyalty guest preferences, you know they’re connected, and if they have opted in, you can push offers to increase discretionary purchases like F&B, spa, golf and others. You know their loyalty level and can automatically provide additional services like a faster connection. These are little things that help meet those new, elevated guest expectations, and they will get noticed.

As more and more Gen Y guests are bypassing the hotel front desks and going directly to their “selected room,” auto authentication will become a necessity for guests to automatically connect to the hotel Wi-Fi network. It is inevitable that auto authentication becomes a part of brand’s e-business platform.

While not sexy, offering your guests a secure Wi-Fi connection is another important benefit. Passpoint provides guests with an encrypted connection to the internet without requiring a VPN (virtual private network). At a minimum that is a comforting selling point and something that should be included with pre-stay communications.

Additionally, brands, independents and management companies have opportunities to form “roaming alliances” with other businesses such as restaurant chains, carriers/cable companies, malls and sports facilities who also implement Passpoint. Brands can leverage their selected service providers who may have already established alliances with other businesses such as carriers/cable companies to accelerate their roaming alliances at a faster speed. 
There has been a great deal of published technical information on auto authentication. Instead of elaborating on more technical content, our interviews focused on what hotel brands need to do with regard to auto authentication to better deliver their promises on “we remember you, welcome back again to our hotels” and “our hotel is an office away from your office, a home away from your home.” Different from the old days when many hotels had non-standards and old Wi-Fi networks, most brands by now have implemented some sort of standard Wi-Fi networks. This is a big step toward implementing auto authentication. Amongst the many references on auto authentication, the recently released HTNG whitepaper titled, “Centralize Authentication Framework” http://www.htng.org/centralauth provides comprehensive insights.
We want to highlight some challenges and lessons learned so that brands are aware and can do it right the first time and increase the speed of deployment on auto authentication. After the hotel Wi-Fi networks are upgraded to recent standards, most of the deployment of auto authentication can be done remotely. The good news is that most of the recently installed wireless access points (WAPs) are equipped with Hotspot 2.0 capability. This configuration can be turned on remotely by the Wi-Fi network service providers. As with all other IT projects, it is essential to gain support from business executives to provide proper awareness training and to make sure property level leaders (i.e., general managers) understand the benefits.

In 2017 the number of free Wi-Fi hotspots numbered close to 189 million worldwide. Now, more than 52 percent of all internet traffic is mobile traffic and 82 percent of people with the help of their smartphones make preliminary researches on the products they are going to buy. It is estimated that by 2020 mobile e-commerce will account for 45 percent of all e-commerce. It is also worth noting that a huge shift in the usage of mobile Internet happened this past year. It was reported that mobile traffic compiles 52 percent of all Internet traffic, and in 2016 this figure was of 42 percent. This means, that during this single year the quota of mobile traffic grew 10 percentage points.  
It’s clear consumer digital technologies will continue to evolve at a break-neck pace, and business travelers will continue to demand seamless secure Wi-Fi connections on their own path, the way they want it.
Consider this: it’s only been 10 years since Apple first introduced the iPhone®. Ten years is a blip in the grand scheme of human history, not even a blink. And yet let’s consider how smartphones and mobility have completely changed the way we live, work, socialize and entertain ourselves.

 With increasing demand, and an exponentially increasing number of devices, wireless networks and the Wi-Fi eco-system need to keep up. We believe central authentication offers a convenience, but Wi-Fi auto authentication using Passpoint is a more secure and powerful enabler, and the next step that will support a more secure seamless personal guest experience within hospitality.
We want to thank many subject matter experts from a few of the hotel brands (Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott) and service providers (Arris/Ruckus, Blueprint RF, Cloud5, Eleven Wireless, GuestTek, Safety NetAccess, Single Digits, Sunray and Ubiguiti) for their contribution. 

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