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What Will It Take To Wirelessly Enable Broadband in Your Hotel?

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October 01, 2010
Wireless | Technology
Cathy Zatloukal - cathy@5thGenWireless.com

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It wasn’t too long ago that the question was, why carry a mobile phone to make a call?  You had to learn how to dial differently, carry something on your person, and pay a lot to use it.  Today, there are more than four billion wireless subscribers worldwide and until recently accessing the Internet via mobile phone was not a satisfactory user experience.   A combination of We- based products and services designed to be accessed via mobile phone, better Web browsers and a faster 3G network have changed that.  Products such as the iPhone® and Andriod™ OS-based phones have lead the way by generating over 60 percent mobile Internet and application usage while making up less than a quarter of the devices shipped. 2010 has delivered multimedia devices such as Apple’s iPad™ and even faster 4G networks.  Welcome to the mobile Internet era.

Emerging technology creates both opportunities and risks for any business.   How quickly a company can overcome general barriers created by the current way of doing business will determine if they can exploit the opportunity side of that equation.  Over 70 percent of U.S. adults felt that it was safe to make a purchase via mobile phone, according to a recent Harris Interactive poll.  Furthermore, 43 percent of respondents were willing to purchase hotel rooms, and 40 percent of tickets for travel via their mobile devices.  Hoteliers have reacted to these socioeconomic signals and are changing the way they interact with their guests by investing in everything from Websites, booking engines and CRM solutions to better serve the mobile user to looking for ways to tap into the extensive smartphone application space to better understand their guests’ habits. 

Guests conditioned to interact with the hotel brand via mobile, coupled with the changing guest mobile Internet consumption habits shaped by the wireless carriers’ content and pricing plans are creating a new dimension to the definition of quality of guest service for a property and that is quality wireless broadband.  One case in point, the Netflix application being touted as the killer app for the iPad™, requires a 5 Mbps connection for a good movie viewing experience according to PC Magazine, and AT&T is offering unlimited 3G bandwidth on the iPad for $30 a month, as compared to the current $60 a month with 5GB cap for other mobile computing devices. It won’t be long before your iPad-toting guests expect that same level 3G connection quality in the guestroom.  As the general mobile market evolves from voice and e-mail centric to Web browsing and video, the higher the bar will go in terms of guest expectations for the wireless broadband networks throughout the hotel.

What are the considerations for wireless broadband networks in hotels? First, whether it’s Cisco, Coda Research or Yankee Group, the industry consensus is that mobile Internet traffic will increase more than 20 times by 2014, relative to 2009 traffic. Secondly, 66 percent of all wireless handsets shipments by 2015 will be Wi-Fi enabled, according to a recent Coda Research study. Finally, mobile broadband cost per bit decreases exponentially as the carrier network migrates from 3G to 4G, according to Ovum, Telstra and Nokia Siemens.  

An in-building network capable of providing 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi service with the ability to gracefully scale capacity would be a solution. One of the more costly aspects for a broadband wireless network, as well as the controlling factor for scalability, is the cabling infrastructure. What should that cabling infrastructure look like? While hoteliers continue to invest in LAN/WLAN, wireless carriers are moving to Ethernet-based mobile broadband solutions with 4G.  Therefore, the logical direction is the LAN. Technology exists today to converge 3G as well as 4G on to LAN/WLAN without consuming Ethernet bandwidth. This technology uses open lanes (i.e., unused spectrum) on the LAN/WLAN cabling to transport the mobile broadband signal to the wireless carrier and is totally transparent to the existing Ethernet traffic.   Instead of investing in the traditional separate, single-purpose mobile broadband solution, this technology enables mobile broadband signals and HSIA traffic to share common infrastructure, thus allowing the cable investment to be re-directed toward improving the hotel LAN infrastructure. This investment in upgraded LAN infrastructure will be required to support the future introduction of AP-like mobile broadband radios (i.e., enterprise femtocells) distributed and connected the LAN network much like the Wi-Fi network today, creating the ability to cost effectively scale capacity to that 20 times factor.  If the FCC gets its way, this quality of wireless broadband cabling concept for buildings may evolve into a LEED-like rating program. 

A converged long-term solution path between HSIA and carrier’s mobile broadband network provides the foundation for a shared investment model.  On the revenue side of the equation, outside of in-home use, the hotel guest has the potential to become one of the most captive audiences for mobile Internet product and services consumption, and hence collaborative revenue models with wireless carriers can now be in the cards.  Add in the fact the hoteliers are building their customer relationship around the mobile makes a wireless broadband-enabled property more than a nice to have. 

Cathy Zatloukal is a principal for 5thGenWireless. She can be reached at (301)535-1219 or by e-mail at cathy@5thGenWireless.com.

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