High-speed internet a continuous investment for hotels
 
High-speed internet a continuous investment for hotels
12 JULY 2017 12:00 PM

The clearest implication of a sharp rise in high-speed internet usage is that hoteliers must budget for significant upgrades to continue to meet guest expectations.

Two months ago in this space, we presented the findings from a study conducted on high-speed internet access (HSIA) utilization at Loews Hotels & Resorts over four years (2013 – 2016). In this column, we are commenting on the implications of these findings. Given the priority today’s travelers place on HSIA services, these implications are of interest to all hoteliers, owners, asset managers and the suppliers of these services.

The broad implication is that since we do not anticipate that the demand and utilization of HSIA will decrease or plateau in the foreseeable future, hoteliers and owners should plan on continuous investment in HSIA infrastructure and bandwidth capacity. We recommend budgeting for significant upgrades as technology standards and guest expectations evolve on a cycle no longer than every three years.

Device utilization
Looking at the simplest metric, the raw number of total devices connected to HSIA services, we see a strong trend line running up and steeply to the right.

The increased number of connections reflects growth in both devices per room and increased occupied rooms:

The implication of this measure is that there is a lot of room for growth before this metric starts to plateau, reinforcing the need to expect continuous upgrades. The driver of increased devices per occupied room is mostly attributable to hotel guests learning to connect their smartphones, not just their laptops, when they arrive at the hotel. This logic is borne out by our next metrics.

Operating system mix
The mix of operating systems shows apparent growth of iOS ((iPhone and iPad devices) at the expense of Windows and OSX (Apple laptops) devices.

However, evaluating absolute number of connections, we see a steep increase in iOS utilization, with an only-slightly shallower increase for Windows and Android devices. The curve for OSX shows a much shallower growth rate.

These findings suggest that optimizing your HSIA services for iOS, Windows and Android devices must be a priority. Very often, when Apple releases a new version of iOS, it affects how the device interacts with commercial HSIA applications and the service providers need to adapt quickly. While the root cause of the problem lies with Apple and the resolution with the service providers, the hotel gets blamed for difficulties in connecting and authenticating. So it is important for hoteliers to understand how their service provider reacts to these challenges when they arrive, what kind of relationship they have with Apple and how they are equipped to deploy the fix quickly without disrupting some other aspects of the service.

Bandwidth utilization
Bandwidth consumption is one of the primary drivers of guest demand and hotel owner expense: bandwidth consumption. The curve below shows continuous growth in average daily utilization of bandwidth across the enterprise. Note the steep increase in the slope of the curve from 2015 to 2016. Two factors drive this increase in bandwidth consumption:

  • Much greater demand for video content in all forms; and
  • Accelerated proliferation of cloud and hosted applications.

Bandwidth consumption as a percentage of capacity should be evaluated monthly and additional capacity brought online when peak utilization regularly hits 70% of capacity. These utilization reports should be readily available from your HSIA service provider if the hotel cannot pull the data.

In the example above, which is most definitely not a Loews Hotel, they are clearly under-equipped for bandwidth, regularly exceeding 75% of capacity and maxing out at least once.

Additional implications
Some other implications and insights we think the HNN audience should be aware of:

Streaming and casting: As noted above, increased viewing of video content online is a big driver of bandwidth demand. Some of this is being done by guests streaming TV and movie content to their devices from services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. More and more service providers are offering means for guests to stream their content to the guestroom television, rather than watching “Game of Thrones” on the laptop. If a hotel is adding such a service, add bandwidth at the same time.

Back of house and administrative uses: As guest demand for HSIA service increases, so does administrative demand. Mobile housekeeping, tablet check-in, voice over Wi-Fi and similar applications all increase administrative utilization of the network. A Wi-Fi network designed for guestrooms will probably need to be extended to improve back-of-house coverage to satisfy administrative demand (in short, greater density of wireless access points). We recommend using a separate SSID (Wi-Fi network name) for administrative purposes and that this SSID not broadcast its name.

Cellular carrier offloading: This trend can manifest itself in two different ways: Major carriers now support voiceover Wi-Fi in the U.S., so a hotel guest that has enabled this feature on their smartphone and authenticated to your network may be placing telephone calls over your Wi-Fi instead of the carrier’s cellular network. (This feature makes more efficient use of scarce licensed spectrum, but consumes more of the bandwidth supporting your unlicensed Wi-Fi service.) Or carriers and service providers can make agreements to automatically offload subscriber traffic to the Wi-Fi network using a standard called Hotspot 2.0. (Such agreements should include a revenue share with the hotel.)

Internet of Things: Probably still on the horizon for broad deployments, as automated device-to-device connections and communications proliferate, demand for bandwidth and density will increase.

Return of unlimited data plans: Carriers are now starting to offer unlimited data plans again. This may result in a slight decline in demand for HSIA, at least from smartphones.

Tony Del Mastro is the CTO of Loews Hotels & Resorts, leading all aspects of enterprise and property technology for the brand. Mark Haley is Managing Partner of The Prism Partnership, a boutique consultancy serving the global hospitality industry.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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