IT teams in the hospitality field are under immense pressure to meet the expectations of their guests, who increasingly arrive with a wide variety of devices and demand the same quality of service they enjoy at home. A Google search for negative reviews about hotel Wi-Fi turns up over 728,000 results ,a telling indication of how guests view the quality of Wi-Fi at the places they stay. An office or other corporate set-up can focus either on high-density coverage or high performance, but a hotel must be able to incorporate both capacities, while still supporting any type of device. Think about it – what business besides a hotel would need to facilitate thousands of new users, on thousands of different devices, all with individual requirements – in just one week?
In particular, hospitality IT staff face new challenges from the ubiquitous use of mobile devices. More than ever, guests have come to expect consistent, easily accessible Wi-Fi upon checking in. But poor reliability, total lack of security, the inability to pair devices, and complex onboarding are some of the main components that conspire to make manyhotel Wi-Fi networks particularly unfavourable.
Recent technology trends have only compounded the problem. Guests are using multiple wireless devices in their rooms, at the gym, or by the pool, a shift fueled in part by the expansion of the Internet of Things. Device numbers at many venues have doubled or tripled, putting even greater strain on networks.
Add in the continuing evolution of wireless standards and the situation gets even trickier. The introduction of 802.11ac Wave 2, the latest Wi-Fi standard, has only raised the importance of engineering cost-effective Wi-Fi solutions with a long life cycle. To overcome these challenges, look for a Wi-Fi solution that meets the following requirements:
Requirement 1: Always-reliable experience , no matter how many devices are on the network
Hotel and resort guests now look for dependable, easily accessible, round-the-clock Wi-Fi as part and parcel of their booking. Even in hotel restaurants, you can’t help but notice the number of people tapping away at smartphones, tablets and wearable devices . Reservations are made online, business meetings are held in hotel bars – even room keys are electronic and interactive. Guests expect the ability to check their e-mails whilst having breakfast, or stream their favourite series to their tablets whilst relaxing in their bedrooms. A reliable Wi-Fi service is imperative.
To deliver a consistent Wi-Fi experience, make sure your network provides these three capabilities:
- High-density coverage in areas such as the hotel bar, ballroom or restaurant. Keep in mind that if just one device connects in a restaurant, it gets 100% of the bandwidth. But if 200 devices connect they each get a mere .5% of the bandwidth available, since Wi-Fi is a shared technology. So rather than asking vendors how many devices can connect to an access point, find out how many can connect while still providing a good user experience
- Flexible ratio of 5GHz to 2.4GHz radios. To optimize the guest experience, you must match client requirements with infrastructure capability. This essentially means you’re seeking a higher percentage of 5GHz radios over those that use 2.4GHz. Today it’s typical to see between 70-90% of total guest devices with 5 GHz technology.. Why the high number? Because the 5GHz band has 24 available channels, compared to just 3 for the 2.4GHz band. To keep pace, avoid access points that are rigidly configured with one 2.4 GHz and one 5 GHz radio, because you’ll probably be paying for more 2.4GHz radios than you need. Instead, look for access points with software-programmable radios that you can configure toeither the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band with just a click. This way, youcan gradually increase the percentage of 5GHz radios as more guests start using newer devices.
- The ability to assign priority. Suppose Apple comes out with a new version of iOS one morning and 1000 guests start a download, whilst a conference organizer simultaneously tries to use the Wi-Fi for a major presentation. You can prevent all the downloads from interfering with hotel-wide Wi-Fi performance if your management interface lets you assign priority to traffic based on the type of application or time of day. You might want to limit application and software downloads to 5-10 percent of network traffic, for example. Application control doesn’t block traffic entirely; it simply favors the traffic that benefits the majority of hotel residents.
Requirement 2: Simple onboarding
It’s the Christmas holidays, and families in their dozens begin arrivingto yourhotel. Hundreds or thousands of guests will check inwith multiple Wi-Fi devices laptops, tablets, smartphones, gaming devices, fitness bracelets and more. And of course, these guests will expect to connect right away.
Asking each individual guest to manually register every one of their devices simply isn’t practical, and will likely result in some unhappy customers (and, in turn, negative TripAdvisor reviews!). An innovative solution from Xirrus allows you to provide guests with an individualized passkey upon check-in, as well as a link to a website where guests can register their devices by simply entering their name andpasscode —no IT involvement required. The solution identifies each device and automatically connects it to the network.
The self-registration solution also helps discourage guests from sharing their passkey with non-guests and visitors by limiting the number of devices perperson. If the limit at your hotel is four devices, a guest who attempts to register a fifth device is prompted to de-register another.
Requirement 3: Low total cost of ownership
To keep capital costs down, look for a solution that provides maximum coverage with the fewest number of access points. Some vendor’ solutions require dozens of access points deployed throughout a hotel, whileothers provide the same level of coverage with only a couple of access points installed. The difference lies in the number of radios per access point. Just like with wired switches the ability to deploy more radios in a single access point provides a more cost-effective the solution. Deploying fewer access points reduces hardware expenses as well as those for installation, cabling, and ongoing management..
Another way to bring down your costs is to choose a solution that can support new wireless standards, such as 802.11ac Wave 2, with a simple software upgrade. Software-upgradeable radios prolong the life of your Wi-Fi network allowing you adapt your network without paying for an expensive brand-new install
Ensure a 5 star rating
Increased device numbers and greater guest reliance on Wi-Fi translate into a larger burden on hotel Wi-Fi networks. The good news is that innovative Wi-Fi solutions can overcome the challenges. Choose a solution with reliable performance in high-density areas, the option to assign priority to traffic based on application, self-service registration, and software-configurable radios. The glowing reviews from your happy guests will quickly follow.
Perry Correll is the Principal Technologist at Xirrus. He has a long and extensive networking background that extends over 25 years. His knowledge spans early Ethernet connectivity through to today’s high density Wi-Fi technologies.
Perry‘s current focus is the development of Wi-Fi solutions that support the growing IoT-driven demand for reliable, always on and secure wireless connectivity.