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The Next Wave of Wireless

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June 01, 2008
Wireless | Technology
Ashok Kumar - akumar@ieee.org

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Wireless technologies, applications and their environments are very dynamic and change constantly. We are now onto the next wave of wireless developments and this is a preview of what we can expect; new applications that can enhance guest experiences and benefit hotel operations are likely to emerge in the near future. 

Wi-Fi has been adopted by hotel properties since it was introduced in early 2000 and has undergone quite an evolution. The alphabet soup of 802.11 radio standards now includes a, b and g. The next step in the Wi-Fi evolution is n which can provide higher throughput speeds of the order of 150 Mbps range, although the maximum data rate might be higher.  The use of multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) technology allows for the greater throughput and longer distance coverage. The base proposal (draft 2) for n has been accepted by the standards body and products certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance are being deployed at enterprises. However some deployment challenges remain as far as backward compatibility of the access points and the impact on the existing wired network infrastructure. For a review of the standards versions, please see the table below.

Why WiMax Now?
Worldwide interoperability for microwave access (WiMax) has been a technology in the making for about seven years now. It is based on IEEE 802.16 set of standards with the fixed access part ratified in 2004 and mobile access part approved the following year in 2005. For back-haul applications at a hotel, fixed access networks are what makes the best sense from a cost and interoperability standpoint. More independent service providers have begun to deploy WiMax-based networks and offer services over them. Furthermore, use of WiMax technology for deployment in the recently available spectrum of 700MHz bands will assist in helping drive down the costs of network equipment and hence the service.

WiMax makes good sense for hotels to consider for broadband access service. It can be used in the event of bandwidth bursts that meeting and convention groups demand. It can also be very effective as a back-up strategy in a disaster recovery situation. Combining this technology with global positioning systems (GPS) wider area networking applications among hotels in a metro region can be expected to emerge as this technology gets deployed over the next two to three years on a cost-effective basis.  

The recently concluded wireless auctions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2008, opens up many possibilities. The auction winners in four different blocks of the 700 MHz spectrum (A, B, C and E) include many independent service providers and two well-known telecom companies. The high-end band in the spectrum, D reserved for public safety communications remains unresolved as of now. The entire 700 MHz spectrum was freed up due to the migration of the analog ultra high-frequency (UHF) TV channels switching to a digital medium. (Reference “Digital, HD and IPTV” published in Hospitality Upgrade, Summer 2006.)   

One important aspect of the auctions was the stipulation in the C band of the spectrum requiring open access for devices and applications. This will allow more choices for users and more competitive service offerings. Targeted applications for vertical market segments can be expected from third-party developers. On the wireless devices front, there is a new breed of ultra-portables emerging backed by technology bellwethers such as Intel. These provide full PC functionality, besides the typical hand-held devices and PDAs, with a high degree of mobility. These might be well suited for the mobile workforce within hotels such as housekeeping, concierge and event management.               

Benefits from These Wireless Developments
Wi-Fi offers a good option for alternatives to on-site communications at the hotel. With the greater throughput offered by the g and n technologies, voice applications are starting to be realized. The greater throughput of n will be much needed in dense usage situations of convention facilities and meeting rooms. It can also accommodate video communications in HDTV format under ideal conditions in the future. Enhanced Wi-Fi applications include real time locations services (RLTS), speech recognition, integration with CRM systems, alarm and building control systems, etc. The hand-held devices now offer more ease of use with larger displays, and the battery life has been significantly improved. With good integration to CRM systems, rapid response to guest requests and improved employee efficiency can be achieved.

For the benefits of wireless technologies to avail, hoteliers need to keep in mind the axiom about coverage limitations in the areas required. There are many new architectures evolving around distributed antenna system (DAS) addressing the coverage issue. The Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) has developed guidelines and best practices around this that benefits the industry. Throughout the deployment of wireless networks, it is important to adhere to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). The wireless parts of this standard include changing of the default settings, SSID broadcast restrictions and encryption requirements. The figure above provides a view of the typical wireless use at a hotel.

There are many alternative wireless technologies and choices available for hospitality operators to empower the hotel staff and enhance guest relations. As the property communications get more complex, the use of wireless can make the management of it simple and timely. Hotel needs such as instant response to guests’ requests, personalized services for guests, hotel staff accountability and asset allocations can all be managed in a cost-effective manner. The keys to success include leveraging the infrastructure at the hotel and good integration among the systems. Prudent investments in wireless networks at a hotel property can be an effective solution in staying ahead of the guest needs and market demands.

Ashok Kumar is an independent technology advisor with extensive experience in emerging technology implementations, such as Wi-Fi, IP networks, voice and video communications. He can be reached at (404) 626-0227 or e-mail akumar@ieee.org.

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