By Ingo Flomer, VP Business Development and Technology at Cobham Wireless
Internet connectivity is becoming one of the most highly-prioritised technologies for the hospitality industry, particularly for hotels. Whether it’s the ability for guests to sneak away from a conference meeting to make a call, watch Netflix whilst tucked up in bed, or post the perfect holiday picture on Instagram, strong and reliable connectivity is essential. If guests can’t receive a reliable signal to do what they need to do, they are unlikely to be guests again.
Many hotel chains are providing Wi-Fi access, but this isn’t enough. Guests demand cellular connectivity to allow them to connect to the internet and access their full range of mobile services. Some guests are happy to part with their personal details over a Wi-Fi network in order to gain access, yet others are much more wary of the privacy and security implications of doing this.
Reliable cellular coverage in hotels ensures guests can make the most of their mobile plan, providing them with familiar and easy access to the internet and their broader mobile services. Crucially, cellular signals travel further than Wi-Fi, so it is possible for a hotel to provide connectivity in any part of the building. Yet despite 4G providing a broader, more reliable, and safer user experience, hotels are still under-valuing the impact of investing in cellular connectivity.
A smart solution
The problem of cellular coverage is one frequently experienced by hotels across the globe. So how can it be addressed?
One option for providing mobile coverage in a large indoor is to install an external base station near the hotel and cover it from the outside. However, many hotels are unable to receive reliable, external coverage (i.e. through a local mobile carrier) throughout their entire building. Different construction materials can obstruct cellular signal in buildings; large amounts of concrete, or modern constructions with lots of metal, may reduce or impede external mobile signals. Basements and cellars, for obvious reasons, will likely experience the same issues. Areas with buildings clustered together may also experience problems, as the signal will get weaker as it bounces off each building.
The other, more reliable option, is to install a DAS system inside the building. DAS can support cellular connectivity from multiple mobile operators and high levels of mobile data traffic. This is essential in venues like hotels where hundreds of people will be using their phones simultaneously, connecting via numerous providers. DAS solutions can deliver high quality services to subscribers, and overcome the usual signal degradation and deflection caused by large solid structures. Locations where DAS is used benefit from relatively good defined coverage, fewer coverage holes and lower power consumption.
The optimum solution for providing coverage indoors is Digital DAS, which enables users to shift the capacity of the network, moving coverage around different areas of the venue. For example, if a hotel is holding a conference, capacity can be increased in that area of the venue to allow for potentially hundreds of extra users. Equally, capacity can be scaled back in other areas when they are not in use, saving money, and reducing energy consumption.
Due to the significant investment needed for this kind of installation, hotels cannot rely on operators to deploy dedicated coverage systems. But they can install their own. This is known as the neutral host model, whereby a hotel can set up its own DAS, installed by a system integrator. Hotels can then lease out these networks to the mobile operators, to generate an extra source of revenue.
Currently gaining popularity in Germany, the neutral-host model supports multiple operators, technologies and applications.
Whether hotels like it or not, connectivity is becoming an essential part of their offering. Sites such as TripAdvisor are sparking fierce competition which vendors cannot ignore. Hospitality venues should consider the impact that providing a strong and reliable cellular connection will have on the customer experience, and how this could improve business.