The great bandwidth debate

Here’s one way to get a lively discussion going—ask hoteliers about WiFi and bandwidth.

By Colleen Isherwood

Here’s one way to get a lively discussion going—ask hoteliers about WiFi and bandwidth. 

On the one hand, consumers want and expect free WiFi. They want to be able to take their own equipment—iPods, Blackberries, iPads, laptops and more—and use them in the room. They’re used to downloading movies, music and videos—and they expect to be able to do that at the hotel as well.

All of this has implications for hotels. It’s all about a new “B” word—“bandwidth”. And these demands can leave hoteliers caught in an endless cycle of adding bandwidth to deliver the speed guests require. 

At a recent CLN editorial advisory meeting, Vito Curalli of Hilton Worldwide noted that WiFi has become very complicated, involving detailed discussions with IT people. Guests generally travel with three mobile devices and want to be active on them right away, whether they are in the lobby, the guestroom or the meeting rooms. 

At the Hilton Toronto Airport, a 455-room hotel, you take 600 guests per day times three devices and that adds up to 1,800 devices per day.

“More sophisticated guests don’t even want to see a splash page and log in. Their expectation is that they are paying X dollars per night, and they want to get in right away,” Curalli said.

The fact that free WiFi is available in airports everywhere helps fuel travellers’ expectations.

At Deerhurst Resort, the problem is amplified by the fact that there are often three to four guests travelling together, with mobile devices for everyone down to the kids who are four years old, general manager Chris Lund told the meeting. “And then someone downloads a 10 gigabyte movie…”

So how do hoteliers meet guests’ expectations for seamless technology, equal to and/or better than what they get at home, and still balance their budgets?

Claude Sénéchal, senior vice-president, sales and marketing for Intello, knows the problem well. “Five years ago, people came to hotel rooms with one device. Now they have four devices—iPads, iPhones, kids’ playstations and more.

“Five or six years ago, only 20 per cent of guests used the Internet, and a regular dial-up Internet cable would suffice, but that’s not true any more.”

Intello’s i-Hotel provides hotels, motels and convention centres with high-speed Internet access to guests, promising a fast, a safe and easy Internet experience. i-Hotel is compatible with many wireless and wired solutions, including hybrid networks (wired and wireless).

Sénéchal recommends using tiered pricing—offering a basic free service, then raising the price to $4.95 or $9.00 depending on the class of service. 

He compares bandwidth to a pipe—if you don’t a big enough pipe, you can’t force more water to go through it. 

Monitoring usage is very important—for example, making sure kids don’t download illegal stuff. 

“If you put a filter on the bandwidth, you can recover 40 per cent of the bandwidth,” he says. It’s also important to note that if a child does download something illegal, the responsibility does not fall on the guest, or the Internet service provider, but on the hotel.

“If you have an open web system, how do you know?  We can provide logs for all guests for the last 10 years—we know who did what.”

Installing a proper WiFi system today  is not the job of a jack-of-all-trades, Sénéchal adds. “You need someone with experience and know-ledge, and a good and reliable software. Otherwise you are at risk.”