Today’s hotel guests expect a homelike Wi-Fi experience. They want to automatically connect when they arrive on property without having to login. They need blazing fast speeds and secure connections to support streaming video, file sharing and videoconferencing across the myriad devices they carry (four on average!). As this “instant-on” experience becomes table stakes for hotels to compete for guest loyalty, it also opens the door to a revolution in delivering a more personalized guest experience.
Secure Auto-connection with Passpoint (HotSpot 2.0)
The simplest way to automatically connect guests to the Wi-Fi network is by recognizing the 12-character media access control (MAC) address on the guest’s device. MAC authentication simply requires a guest to opt-in once to have their device remembered by the network for future connections. The downside of this approach is that MAC authenticated connections are not secure and the MAC address is persistent, meaning it cannot be removed if the device is lost or stolen.
Much of the discussion these days though is around Passpoint, the brand name for the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 specification. Passpoint allows guests to install a profile on their device one time to be automatically authenticated based on the stored credentials. This technology allows guest devices to automatically connect to the hotel's network whenever and wherever they are in range. Passpoint uses 802.1x to authenticate users on to secure WPA2 encrypted connections. Enabling a more cellular-like experience, Passpoint gives way to a modern connectivity experience that delights guests and rewards loyalty members.
Connect Guest and In-room Devices with Personal Area Networks (PAN)
Imagine this – a guest arrives and is auto-connected to Wi-Fi and dynamically assigned to a private, virtual network dedicated just to her hotel room that no other guest can see. Suddenly, her personal devices are automatically connected to in-room technology to securely stream movies to the big screen TV, share photos, print wirelessly, and control the room temperature and lighting. She continues to stay connected to her PAN via the secure network as she moves within the hotel–from ordering drinks poolside to attending an onsite conference. 
Personal Area Networks are the starting point for the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming a reality in hospitality. The jury is still out in hospitality as to how they best get deployed, but wireless PANs typically involve battery-operated devices (i.e., door locks and thermostats) that draw low current to extend their life. Wireless PAN technologies being trialed today include Zigbee, Bluetooth, Ultrawideband (UWB), Wi-Fi and even cellular. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages as it relates to complexity and cost. As hotel brands look to easily and securely connect guest and in-room devices, IoT device management tools become critically important for both ease of use and real-time analytics to manage performance.
Guest Personalization and Improved Operational Efficiency with Location Data
Wi-Fi analytics provide a simple way to understand when devices are on-property to better engage guests without having to use beacons. Upon arrival, guests can be sent a welcome message inviting them to check-in via their mobile devices, or front desk associates can be notified that loyalty members have arrived to deliver that extra level of personalized service. Guests may also be sent promotional offers depending on their location within the property; this type of location tracking should be used with discretion as it can be negatively received if it’s misused. Perhaps more importantly, location services may be most effective increasing efficiency of back-of-house operations to deliver services in a timelier manner to improve guest satisfaction and drive loyalty.
Bring It All Together with Central Authentication and Management
Guests, especially loyalty members, want a seamless, familiar Wi-Fi experience with high performance and reliability every time they check into any hotel within a brand. Instead, what they often get is a disconnected experience – with different portals, login processes and performance levels at each property. The reason is that Wi-Fi network decisions are often made at the property level. As a result, each hotel is essentially its own network with different hardware, software and network integrators. Across tens or even thousands of properties, it becomes virtually impossible to create a consistent experience.
Wi-Fi is far too important to the guest experience to manage in such a decentralized way. The answer is a cloud-based central authentication platform to provide an easy way for hotel brands to manage guest Wi-Fi centrally for seamless, high performance connectivity across properties. Authentication is based on a single sign-on where guests authenticate once and are granted access automatically every time they arrive at any brand location. A centralized Wi-Fi platform also enables hotels to secure guest and associate devices on separate networks. The result? A reliable and consistent guest connectivity experience that just works; an experience that guests will keep coming back for.