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Sexy Cabling? Is there such a thing?

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March 14, 2007
Technology | Architecture
Dan Phillips - dphillips@its-services.com

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© 2007 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Who the heck thinks any kind of cabling is sexy?  Just those mushroom-headed geeks sitting in those dark, cold equipment rooms.  Now, what can I expect, some pictures of 19-inch racks with blue and yellow cables running in tandem to perfectly labeled ports in a flat-black patch panel?  Is that what sexy cabling is?  I’d rather look at a different set of pictures, if you don’t mind.

If the thoughts above reflect your thoughts when you considered reading this article, then keep reading.  The growth in technology, and especially devices and applications hotel guests carry with them or demand to be in the guestroom, are putting a strain on every hotel’s cabling infrastructure.  Hotels need to address this issue with fiscal responsibility and an eye toward the future.

The typical hotel today provides telephone service, some form of Internet access and both free-to-guest TV and video on demand(VOD) to the hotel guestroom.  The phones run over copper wire, probably category (Cat) 3 or less.  If the Internet access is wired, it is probably over the same copper wire with DSL modems in place.  And, the television and VOD applications are running over coax.  The thermostat and door locks are probably stand-alone devices, as would be the minibar and in-room safe.

If you’ve had your head above water for anytime over the last year or so, you know that everyone is talking about Internet protocol (IP).  Everything is migrating to IP.  The guestroom in the near future will provide voice over IP, IP TV and VOD over IP.  Door locks, energy management and minibars might all leverage an IP infrastructure to communicate with their respective servers.  The buzz word had been Cat 5e cabling, and now they talk about Cat 6.  The sexy word is fiber.

In New York City there is an over 30 year old, 10-story hotel that currently has a mish-mash of category 3 and worse cabling throughout the building.  The property has static on its phone lines, DSL modems for HSIA and coax for television and VOD.  The quality of service is poor in this luxury hotel and guest satisfaction scores reflect it.

This hotel is installing a new, sexy cabling plan.  From the computer room vertical risers will be made of 84-strand, laser-optimized 50 micron multimode fiber to IDF closets on each floor.  From there, two-strands of laser-optimized 50 micron multimode fiber will be run to each guestroom.  In the guestroom, the fiber terminates in an enclosed box housing a managed eight-port switch.  This configuration is designed to bring 1 gigabit of bandwidth to every guestroom.

This is an overlay to the existing mix of copper and coax, meaning, that over the next few years, at a pace determined by the hotel and budgeted for, applications can be moved off of the old cable and onto this new infrastructure.  To start, the hotel is moving wired HSIA and VOD onto this new cable. 

If you are familiar with older buildings in New York City, any renovation is difficult.  Without being too intrusive on the hotel, rooms will have to be put out of order but for no more than a couple of days.  The plan brings fiber to every guestroom that will support 1 gigabit.  The cost to do this fiber, electronics and installation is about $2,793 per room.  At the same time, the hotel is installing a wireless solution for every guestroom, to use this same cable plan, which is about $197 per room more.

There is another 130-guestroom, 10-plus story, five-star hotel being built.  The hotel includes a large spa and fitness center, two restaurants and a good amount of meeting space. This hotel is considering the same cable plan as the previous hotel: vertical risers of fiber to IDF closets on  the floors, two-strands of fiber to each guestroom, terminating in a box with a managed eight-port switch inside of it.  From there, Cat 6 will connect to all devices.  Again, the plan is for 1 gigabit of bandwidth to each room.

The cost to cable this entire hotel (rooms, admin, meeting rooms, spa and fitness, PMS, POS) breaks down to about $3,037 per room.  A competitive bid was done with a design including fiber risers with Cat 6 runs to the guestrooms.  This design came out to about $2,118 per room.

It should be noted that the design touted above, fiber all the way to the guestroom, is currently designed for 1 gigabit to the desktop.  However, in the future, these hotels may opt to increase the bandwidth.  At that time, simply changing out the electronic equipment, not running any new cable at all, could increase the bandwidth to 10 gigabit per room.  This design is quite future proof.

So at the end of this we admit that fiber is not necessarily a sexy thing.  However, enabling your rooms now to accommodate guests wanting to use their Skype accounts, download a PowerPoint file, and watch “Desperate Housewives” with a spouse back home three time zones away via Slingbox, all simultaneously, is really quite a feat.  Imagine what your guests will be doing with this kind of infrastructure in the future.

Dan Phillips is COO of ITS, a consulting firm located outside Atlanta, Ga., specializing in technology in the hospitality industry. He can be reached at dphillips@its-services.com. John Alexander works at ITS as a project manager specializing in cable design and implementation.


File Transfer Speeds

The table below shows some examples of typical file sizes, typical transfer speeds and the time necessary to download a specific file size at a specific transfer speed.

File Sizes
  • 10 KB is equivalent to an average e-mail message
  • 100 KB is equivalent to an average spreadsheet
  • 2.5 MB is equivalent to a VGA color screen shot
  • 10 MB is equivalent to a large PowerPoint presentation
  • 4.8 Gig is equivalent to a 1 hour (compressed) standard U.S. video, or 10 minutes (compressed) of an HDTV video

Transfer Speeds

  • 56 Kbps is a good dial-up speed
  • 256 Kbps is what most hotel HSIA vendors provide in the guestroom
  • 1.544 Mbps is a full T-1, typical of what a conference center might provide
  • 1 Gig, the speed the cable plan in the article is designed for

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