The Shocking Truth About Hotel Wi-Fi Networks
Hotel Wi-Fi Networks: are they fit for purpose?
I have come across many hotel networks are not fit for purpose in recent years. Internet access is a utility very much like electricity, gas and water. I believe it is reasonable to expect good quality Internet access whenever you stay in a hotel, holiday resort, caravan park, bed & breakfast and even a tent. If and when the carriers sort their mobile networks out and we can get good quality 4G access across the country then Wi-Fi is a necessity.
I am sure many hotel proprietors underestimate just how important it is to have a good quality internet service. This is compounded by a whole list of reasons why your hotel may not be able to provide your customers with an internet service that meets their needs. I will look at some specific wireless and Internet connectivity issues later in this blog but in the meantime, I will just use Wi-Fi and Internet access to mean the same thing.
“I have stayed in many hotels where they stated they had Wi-Fi on their web site but it was either down or so slow it was too painful to use.”
It isn’t just business focussed hotels that need to provide good quality Internet access. A few years ago I was in a meeting of holiday accommodation owners at a small holiday park in Cornwall. One of the owners put a case forward for park wide Internet access rather than just in the bar and restaurant. The points he made were shared by many. He said that although he did not let his accommodation to holiday makers, he would really like Internet access while on site to keep in touch with friends and family. He was currently having to go to the bar whenever he could to check his emails.
He went on to say that the greatest problem with the lack of internet access was when his grandchildren came to stay. With no Wi-Fi and very poor mobile cover on the site they were unable to keep in contact with their friends. Nor could they watch videos and listen to music. He said this created a very stressful situation to the point where his grandchildren did not want to holiday with their grandparents because there was no internet access.
Another owner said that he had lost bookings when he declared that there was no internet access from within his accommodation. He believed it was too much to expect his customers to walk over to the bar for their internet access. Some of us just cannot do without Internet access. I have stayed in many hotels where they stated they had Wi-Fi on their web site but it was either down or so slow it was too painful to use. I have even called hotels rather than rely on their online information to confirm they had good quality Wi-Fi only to find on arrival it was poor to non-existent.
“The specific definition for high speed will be different for each establishment.”
This highlights a fundamental problem with hotel internet access. Who defines good quality? I have a fibre to the cabinet broadband service at home so my idea of good quality is going to be referenced to what I get at home. Many of the hotels I frequent are on the coast or in the middle of the countryside where the ability to download emails is considered good internet access.
I have spent the past 20 years trying to get good quality bandwidth into hard to reach places for my customers. So I really do understand the problems faced in many areas of the UK. However, when I stay in hotels I need good quality Internet access just as much as I do when I am at home. Our children (especially teenagers) want to choose their own entertainment on their own terms, watching videos or listening to music and then sharing their opinions with their friends on social media. If we don’t have this, life can become stressful. Just as it would if our water or electricity was cut off.
So, what are the issues? Where are these hard to reach places? High speed internet access is a primary requirement. Without it there is little point in investing in wireless access points the associated distribution networking throughout the accommodation areas of your hotel. It is also important to understand the definition of ‘high speed’ will be different for each establishment. Some basic calculations are required to assess the internet speed. This will take into consideration the typical clientele of the hotel, an estimate of the average number of guests that are likely to be online and some assumptions as to the applications they will access. This calculation is relatively short lived as once the Internet service is up and running, real traffic data can be used to determine the bandwidth requirements.
“I have experienced poor internet service in some of the larger hotels too…”
I do wonder how many hotels go through this process when they install their Wi-Fi networks. I appreciate the independent hotels and the smaller groups do not have the same IT resource as the large hotel groups so they are at a potential disadvantage. However, if the independent hotels and small groups want to compete with the larger hotel groups they have to compete in the internet access arena too.
I am certainly not implying that the larger hotel groups always have good internet access. I have experienced poor internet service in some of the larger hotels too, but in general the larger groups usually offer a consistent service. Although, it is important for me to note that the larger group hotels are more likely to be in large urban areas or close to industrial estates so they would expect to have relatively easy access to high speed internet services.
The location of the hotel will have a bearing on their ability to access high speed internet services at a reasonable cost. I must admit though, sometimes I am surprised… shocked even, when I learn that one of my customers on a beautiful coastal location has a range of broadband options available to them. Sadly, I am less surprised when I discover that another of my customers at the top of Bishopsgate in London can only just get 2Mbps over ADSL with no other options available. This is literally just across the road from the area often referred to as London’s own Silicon Valley.
“…the hotel manager or proprietor is faced with a significant purchasing decision with a long term commitment.”
Anyway, back to the point, many hotels are on the wrong side of the digital divide. In which case the only options available for any reasonable bandwidth will be an optical fibre delivery or satellite broadband. The optical fibre delivery can be very expensive if the site is miles away from the nearest point of presence possibly making it cost prohibitive. Satellite broadband is often just about OK as a last resort but the pricing schedules often cause a great deal of grief once the restrictive download quotas are been breached.
The upshot is, the hotel manager or proprietor is faced with a significant purchasing decision with a long term commitment. Furthermore, assessing the return on investment can be more challenging than assessing the bandwidth required. If we consider Internet access as a utility just as we do electricity and water, the return on investment calculation is not necessary.
Before pressing the go button on the Internet service, the cost of delivery around the hotel must be determined. The Internet connection will terminate on a router in a central location. The next step is to identify the most effective way of extending the Internet to your customers in their accommodation.
“Too many access points can be just as problematic as not having enough.”
There are two elements to this. The first is to determine the number of access points required and decide where they are to be located. The second is to provide the network connection from the internet router to each of the access points. Calculating the density of the access points can be roughly calculated on paper or using software, but for effective results a radio frequency site survey is required. Too many access points can be just as problematic as not having enough. The RF survey is an excellent investment that could prevent some very serious and potentially long term mistakes. Costly in terms of money and reputation with your customers. An experienced RF engineer will know how to use the building structure to enhance the wireless network performance. The ability of the material in a wall, floor or ceiling to pass or block the RF signal will have a significant impact on the design, especially in environments where there will be a high user density.
When determining the access point locations some consideration needs to be given to the access point connectivity back to the Internet router. The wireless engineer carrying out the site survey will take this into consideration when identifying the access point locations and will make any necessary adjustments. There maybe a number of options available within hotels for the Internet router to access point connectivity and it is relatively common for more than one option to be used on any site. I refer to this as a ‘connectivity tool box’. Let’s take a look at some of the more common options.
“It is also possible to use coaxial TV cabling and even the mains cabling as an Ethernet distribution network.”
In an ideal world every access point will be connected via one or more dedicated data cables back to a distribution network. Older hotels rarely have this type of infrastructure in place, in which case you will have to make best use of whatever is available.
Many hotels have telephones in each room. If so, the telephone cabling can be used to carry a broadband type service to each room or to rooms closest to the access points. It is also possible to use coaxial TV cabling and even the mains cabling as an Ethernet distribution network.
If there are no physical options available, it may be possible to create the distribution network using wireless mesh. Wireless mesh is a specific function of some vendors’ access points. Wireless mesh requires at least one access point to be physically connected to the distribution network. All other access points connect via wireless to the nearest access point with a wired network connection.
There is no doubt that for any hotel a Wi-Fi network with the associated connectivity and network infrastructure to provide good internet access will require a significant investment. But unless hotel proprietors take internet access seriously it will result in lost business.
In the meantime, I like many others will make my choice of hotels based on the quality of their Internet access.
For our Wi-Fi Guide “The future of wireless and what you can do to improve what you have while you are waiting” please click here for our resources page.