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Bandwidth Usage - Is your pipe big enough?

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October 01, 2008
Technology | Architecture
Bill Peer

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Bed, breakfast and bandwidth. These are the requirements of the modern hotel guest. But how much bandwidth is enough? And how much more will be required in the future? In today’s high-tech environment, hoteliers have a growing number of considerations to keep in mind when estimating bandwidth needs.

What is Bandwidth?
Bandwidth is the measurement of the amount of data transmitted over a network connection in a given time. In the early days of dial-up, bandwidth was derided as “pushing oatmeal through a straw.” But in the last five years, only high-speed Internet access (HSIA) can meet the demands of guests. Knowing what type of guests your hotel attracts is the first clue in estimating your bandwidth needs.

Know Thy User
There are two main types of hotel guests: business and leisure. While both types consume bandwidth, the business traveler is more likely to depend upon Internet connectivity to conduct business on the road. Leisure guests typically spend more time outside of their room, but may still engage in e-mail, online gaming and other Internet activities such as video or music downloading.

Business travelers also tend to be early adopters of the latest technology, such as Slingbox™ (a name sure to strike dread into every hotel operator’s heart). Slingbox™ allows users to hook up a device to a television in their home, and then access that television signal on their laptop via an Internet connection. This is a digital, near broadcast-quality signal streaming in over your hotel network connection.

A virtual private network (VPN) is another heavy consumer of hotel bandwidth. A VPN sets up a secure connection between any two computers in the world. A tech-savvy business traveler may depend upon a VPN to communicate with his or her main office.

Location is another clue to your bandwidth needs. Is your hotel a Crowne Plaza in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district? Or is it a Holiday Inn in Daytona, Fla.? Are your guests sitting in their rooms attending video meetings over a VPN, or frolicking on the beach with nary a Blackberry?

Hotel vs. Guest Operations
Guests aren’t the only consumers of bandwidth. Hotel operations account for a significant portion of bandwidth usage. Modern hotels routinely use a network connection for:

  • Voice over Internet protocol
  • Connection to a central reservation system
  • Remote access – The hotel itself may have its own VPN that allows an owner or other parties to connect remotely to the PMS.

It’s important to make sure there is enough bandwidth to supply both guest operations and hotel operations. If one of your guests is downloading the television show Lost on his laptop without the proper bandwidth and bandwidth allocation, you could find yourself waiting in line to sign in to your own reservation system.

To prevent such collisions on the bandwidth highway, many hotels install separate pipes to supply bandwidth: one for guests and one for hotel operation. While it may seem like a good idea, that’s not always the most efficient or economical solution.

Pipe Size
Bandwidth has expanded from the size of the original dial-up straw to a significantly larger pipe. The pipe comes in various sizes such as DSL, cable, T1 and even T3 (which has 28 times the capacity of a single T1). The bigger the pipe, the more bandwidth it allows. A hotel might add a T1 line to increase bandwidth capacity, reach capacity on that line, and then add another T1. The ISP charges a connection fee for each T1 line.

In the future, as bandwidth prices drop, it may be more economical and efficient to add a single T3 line instead of the continual piecemeal addition of T1 lines.

Network Infrastructure
Before you run out and add another T1 to your hotel, it’s a good idea to make sure your network infrastructure can handle the load. Adequate cabling, hubs, routers and servers are vital to ensure you get the most flow from your pipe. Your bandwidth capacity may be suffering from nothing more than an outdated network infrastructure.

In addition, there are bandwidth management tools (hardware and software) on the market that can intelligently allocate your bandwidth, optimizing usage. These optimizers can be run locally from your site, or hosted by your ISP. (Check with your ISP to see what bandwidth management options they offer.) These optimizers can automatically route bandwidth to the operations (guest or hotel) where it is needed most. If you have 20 guests downloading videos and you need to access your reservation system, the optimizer will allocate the necessary bandwidth to your reservation system. When no hotel operations are occurring, all the available bandwidth is returned to your guests.

Without a bandwidth optimizer package it can be a free for all. It’s first come first served. An optimizer can help even if you only have 1 Mbps of bandwidth. At least that amount is being shared efficiently.

Cost of Doing Business
Over the years, many technologies have caused the hotel industry to adapt and change. Consider, for example, electricity. As consumer needs grew, guests expected that hotels would supply enough electricity to power an increasing array of modern conveniences. (Imagine if a hotel blew a fuse every time someone turned on a blow dryer. How long would guests stay in such a hotel?)

The demand for bandwidth is not unlike electricity. Guests now expect that when they access an Internet connection, it will meet their needs and not do the equivalent of blowing an electrical fuse—stalling a download or crashing a browser.

To estimate bandwidth needs, hotel owners must take into account the user profile, type of hotel market, and competition. While many hotels ultimately use guest complaints and satisfaction scores to drive their decisions, technology continues to present new opportunities for social and business networking. One thing is clear: to ensure a positive guest experience, adequate bandwidth is no longer a luxury—it’s just the cost of doing business.

Bill Peer is the director of enterprise architecture, global technology for IHG, Inc.

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