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Why Old WI-FI Network Design Rules No Longer Apply To Hotels

Diana Szpytma 9 August 2018
Why Old WI-FI Network Design Rules No Longer Apply To Hotels

Michael Wendt, Solution Architect, Hutchinson Networks.

Hotels need to be on notice that guests now regard reliable Wi-Fi as a basic requirement. A stable, powerful network is essential for accommodation providers to thrive in the face of disruptors such as Airbnb. 

A wireless network in a hotel or B&B is an unseen but vital cornerstone of the overall stay experience. Businesses that don’t respond to the needs of their increasingly connected customers could find themselves facing frustrated visitors. If the experience translates into negative reviews published on high-traffic sites such as TripAdvisor, Trivago, Expedia and hotels.com, it amplifies the problem to many more potential guests. 

A fast, reliable and secure Wi-Fi network is vital, but to get it right requires a custom solution that is fit for purpose. It starts with the right design and choice of technology meaning a painless installation, seamless management from anywhere, and built-in flexibility to meet peak demands. The wrong approach – simply adding extra access points – can reduce performance by increasing interference and lead to competition between devices for airtime. 

Guests expect to connect their multitude of devices to a reliable, high-speed hotel network. As each customer checks in they quickly make their presence felt on the local network by connecting their laptops, phones, tablets, smartwatches, games consoles and smart speakers – a list of technology that grows year on year. 

Hotels’ own Wi-Fi demands are also increasing as they look to add services like mobile self-check in or guest apps, in-room voice-activated assistants such as the Amazon Echo, and at select Hotels you can now use your smartphone as your room key. The Hilton and Marriott hotel chains are already experimenting implementing IoT (Internet of Things) technology that will transform stay experiences in current and new rooms. 

Going beyond simple voice assistants, Hilton and Marriott ‘Labs’ are investigating device-connected curtain shades, thermostats, TVs and light switches. 

According to the 2018 Technology Lodging Study, the hospitality industry will need to come to terms with a busier ecosystem of network requirements from both their clientele and in-house services as time goes on.[1] 

But despite the growing reliance on wireless networks, hotels, pubs and B&Bs shouldn’t face this transformation as a problem, but as an opportunity. The Technology Lodging Study also asserts that technology plays a vital role in understanding the guest, and tailoring services to individual customers inspires loyalty and encourages return stays. A real competitive advantage can be gained by using technology, empowering hotels and their guests alike. But this requires a network designed and built for mobility, security and analytics. 

To achieve these goals, wireless network design and implementation must be based on industry best practice, something at the heart of the Hutchinson Networks’ approach. 

Moreover, technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that a wireless network that was fit for purpose 5 years ago may no longer meet the needs of their guests today. But if you follow some of the best practice design principles in network planning such as looking at the areas with poor coverage through a comprehensive site survey followed by detailed predictive designs, then designing a cost-effective upgrade that works within a hotel or venue’s budget is what might be required. 

Sometimes, simply by fine-tuning configuration, optimising the wireless environment reduces existing issues and improves the overall performance and user experience. 

The challenge is building a network that can support and respond to technological transformation. A network of legacy systems retrofitted to support new connectivity demands can pose innumerable difficulties and risks. The stopgap solution of adding more and more Wi-Fi access points, for example, to boost signal strength has never been a viable solution to the growing speed and bandwidth demands of hotel Wi-Fi. 

In the battle for bandwidth another erroneous practice all-too-frequently carried out by Wi-Fi suppliers is placing wireless access points in hotel corridors. This can severely impact wireless performance, as the signal must pass back and forth through what is usually a load-bearing wall as well as a tiled bathroom. 

In this regard, Hutchinson Networks a Cisco Meraki partner provides a solution designed specifically for the hospitality industry. Meraki irons out challenges of signal attenuation design and they configure access points to be mounted inside hotel rooms, therefore closer to guests and their devices which means less interference and better performance. 

A responsive, intelligent and scalable wireless network starts with the groundwork of an in-depth site survey. From a design perspective, we then take customer requirements and deliver fit for purpose wireless solutions to meet those requirements. The wireless network design must always gauge interference, both from neighbouring networks (particularly in built-up areas), as well as our own. 

A comprehensive site survey can reveal hidden spots of poor coverage or sources of interference that cause so much grief to guests and their devices. And businesses with multiple sites usually find that each site will have its own unique challenges.

The solution to these endemic issues and multi-site scalability – lies in the Cloud. A complete Cloud-based solution can roll typical networking assets – firewalls, switches, access points and security cameras – into one solution, managed from a centralised dashboard. Set-up is straightforward because the hardware is pre-configured, and once on-site it’s a simple matter of ‘plug-and-play’ to get the kit installed and live. Stretched IT budgets, a problem acute among smaller establishments, can be accounted for as cloud-based solutions such as Cisco Meraki can be managed virtually and outsourced. 

A hotel wireless network needs to stretch to business travellers needing a reliable high-speed connection via video conferencing and holiday makers who can’t live without binging Netflix. Flexibility and responsiveness can’t be underestimated in terms of their importance – a necessity for a robust hotel network.

 Hotels expanding or upgrading their infrastructure require a scalable solution that can enable the network to grow as new access points are needed and as new value-added services are created. 

The hotel industry doesn’t sleep. Network support needs to be 24/7. A key requirement of a cloud-based management system is that staff quickly respond to and resolve network issues which are then dealt with quickly through centralised visibility and first and foremost it’s easy to deploy. 

What is more, in the era of GDPR, a cloud-based solution that also ensures guest privacy with no user data traversing into the cloud, only management traffic, is imperative. 

Naturally, hotels (regardless of size) are looking to improve the overall experience of their guests, hoping to build brand loyalty. An intelligent wireless network presents more opportunities for a seamless guest experience, including streaming, voice-activated in-room concierge services through smart speakers, and in-room IoT smart control for music, blinds, lighting and temperature.

Using cloud-based analytics, hotels can also monetise opportunities through intelligent guest analysis. These methods include rewarding loyal visitors or offer value-added services. Beacons – placed in specific areas of the hotel and its resort – could also be used to trigger events such as a discount offers for a hotel spa when a guest walks past, for example. 

A premium hotel Wi-Fi network needs to live up to the expectations of guests and deliver at a high-speed. But only hotels with intelligent, responsive networks can sell these premium services, and with a certainty that it delivers on its promise to guests. 

In a recent research paper published by advisory company Gartner, the organisation revealed its top predictions surrounding technological innovation in 2018 and beyond. Gartner asserts that technological disruption is outpacing incumbent organisations, and to continue to thrive businesses must become their own self-disruptors and address digital challenges.[2] 

The failure to respond could negatively impact businesses as the demands of connected guests for ubiquitous connectivity grow year on year. The cost of providing hotel Wi-Fi networks needs to be weighed against the cost of not doing enough in the right areas to maximise the opportunities of technology innovation. 

RECOMMENDATIONS 

  1. Hotel operators with multi-site premises need a rigorous site survey to create a customised, fit-for-purpose Wi-Fi plan of action.

  2. A single pane of glass dashboard for provides visibility and management of the entire network.

  3. Future-proof Wi-Fi networks with a scalable, responsive system that can adapt to increasing guest demands and future business expansion.

  4. Create a true value-add premium Wi-Fi experience, avoid missed expectations and potential for poor guest reviews and negative effect on the bottom line.

  5. Personalisation offers new ways to reward guests, marketing to cross-sell related services and adapt to increasing use of AI and IoT opportunities. 

KEY TAKE-AWAYS

  1. Guests’ increasing need for ubiquitous, fast, responsive hotel wireless network.

  2. Hotels or establishments can’t stand still and must continually adapt to the pace of technology advancements.

  3. The hospitality industry should look for solutions that create bespoke, scalable and fit-for-purpose wireless networks with single point of visibility, virtual management and lifetime support.

  4. Hotels can flourish by meeting the needs of the discerning digitally connected guests who value a ubiquitous, reliable network that seamlessly provides the invisible wireless framework for their business or leisure activities. 

[1][1] 2018 Lodging Technology Study: Deconstructing Innovation by hospitalitytech.com

[2][2] https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3811367

Hutchinson Networks is a thought leader in ideas and technology. With on-the-ground experience in 80+ countries we span the globe, delivering next generation solutions and services to large multinationals, critical public-sector infrastructure and growing start-ups.

See more at https://www.hutchinsonnetworks.com/