11 factors for successful Wi-Fi implementation
03 JUNE 2015 6:31 AM
Providing reliable and robust Wi-Fi coverage throughout a hotel requires careful implementation planning for technical as well as business-related factors.
Survey after survey has identified Wi-Fi as an important priority among travelers. Hotel Wi-Fi networks, however, are often plagued by various service issues—such as dead zones, sudden disconnects, slow speeds, rejected connection requests and jitter—and are unable to meet the coverage, performance and capacity needs of hotels.
The financial implications for poor Wi-Fi service are profound. Growing hotel guest broadband consumption also is making long-range technology and infrastructure planning difficult.
Based on a review of vendor and research literature and interviews of hotel and technology professionals at the property and corporate level, key planning factors to consider in ubiquitous hotel Wi-Fi deployments are:
1. Hotel characteristics. The hotel type, size, layout, construction and geographical location affect the cost and complexity of a Wi-Fi system and the degree of expertise required to design, install, maintain, monitor and support it.
2. WLAN Design. Conduct a wireless survey to determine the design parameters for a wireless local area network, or WLAN, and quality-of-service requirements. This might entail an inspection of the facility, an analysis of Wi-Fi usage patterns and building floor plans and the use of site survey tools. WLAN design requires a thorough understanding of coverage and capacity objectives, and coverage-capacity tradeoffs in balancing traffic loads to maintain acceptable levels of performance.
3. Wired network infrastructure. Evaluate the existing network infrastructure (e.g. cabling, switches, routers, network drops, etc.) and its expansion capabilities. For example, a WLAN solution might not be able to scale to meet future wireless needs without replacing costly throughput bottlenecks, such as slow switches (gateways to the wired network) and low-capacity cabling connected to the access points, or APs.
4. AP location. Validate in a post-implementation wireless survey the optimal locations for APs to maximize range and minimize channel interference from surrounding electronic devices and physical objects. To ensure adequate signal strength, locate APs away from known sources of interference and as close as possible to where guest devices will be used. One study found that a microwave located 25 feet from an AP degraded throughput by 64%.
5. AP requirements. Determine the AP capacity, coverage and throughput optimization requirements based on the guest population (devices and applications) occupying particular spaces (e.g, meeting room, guestroom, lobby, etc.) throughout the day and night. For example, one hotelier installed 70 dual-band APs (supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels) to cover several large meeting room and ballroom spaces located on the first few floors of the hotel. Client load balancing, a mechanism that prevents wireless guest devices from associating to an AP that has reached its maximum capacity, was used for optimizing performance.
6. AP management. Determine the need for standalone APs (typically in small-scale networks) or controller-based APs (typically in mid- to large-scale networks) based on the deployment scope and cost and the desired network management and security capabilities. Standalone APs, unlike controller-based APs, are all managed individually. Utilizing them at a large resort would be time consuming and tedious, often resulting in misconfigurations, security vulnerabilities and compromised performance.
7. Network security. Identify the type of equipment (e.g. switches, routers and firewalls) and tools (e.g. authentication, encryption and intrusion) required to mitigate identified security threats given the hotel environment. For example, measures can be taken to detect and mitigate rogue APs, which are unsecured APs on the hotel network that are not authorized. Guests who attach their devices to rogue APs can be exposed to unauthorized access and have confidential information stolen.
8. Bandwidth capacity. Determine bandwidth capacity requirements based on targeted Wi-Fi experiences, property needs and/or corporate/franchise mandates. Bandwidth factors, such as the average number of devices per guest (e.g. 2.7 devices per person), the take or utilization rate (e.g. 60%) and the amount and type of traffic will vary from property to property. If the average circuit utilization in a hotel environment is 30% to 40%, for example, the peak utilization might reach 80%.
9. Bandwidth solutions. Evaluate the flexibility, scalability, cost, reliability, burstability and robustness of available bandwidth solutions. Combining different types of circuits (e.g., cable, DSL, T1 and fiber optic) from multiple providers, for example, can increase throughput, eliminate dependence on a single ISP for Internet connectivity and cost-effectively increase the amount of bandwidth available to guests.
10. Bandwidth management. Consider implementing bandwidth management policies, such as bandwidth caps and tiered bandwidth and pricing, for providing guests with predictable and proper network resources more cost effectively. A bandwidth cap limits the bandwidth available to any one guest to prevent bandwidth hogging. If one guest is downloading multiple large files, for example, it can bring the network to a crawl for everyone else. Tiered bandwidth and pricing enables free basic Wi-Fi access to all guests with the option to upgrade to higher bandwidth for a fee. This enables the hotel to generate additional revenue for partially offsetting the financial impact of delivering high-quality and reliable Wi-Fi service. Offering a tiered pricing model is a marketing decision.
11. Wireless technologies and standards. Assess the impact of existing and emerging wireless technologies and standards on wireless access architectures to avoid obsolescence and wasted capital and to leverage opportunities for creating efficient, versatile and cost-effective Wi-Fi networks. For example, Hotspot 2.0, an interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff technology, allows a mobile device to automatically discover APs that have a roaming arrangement with the user’s home network. This enables cellular-like roaming among Wi-Fi networks and between Wi-Fi and cellular networks as well as establishes a Wi-Fi connection that is secure, automated (no entering of passwords) and conforms to user/operator policy. Consequently, the complexity of roaming and getting connected is transparent to guests as they traverse the hotel. The Hotspot 2.0 initiative opens up future opportunities for unique inter-vendor antenna designs for evolving capabilities, such as precision location-based and context-aware services (e.g. adapting service options based on the customer’s location). Hotspot 2.0 also might enable hoteliers to wholesale their leftover WLAN capacity to cellular carriers (e.g., Verizon) who are increasingly looking to Wi-Fi to ease the strain on their mobile networks and give users better speed and coverage.
Providing reliable and robust Wi-Fi coverage throughout a hotel requires careful implementation planning for technical as well as business-related factors. Only through proper requirements gathering, network design, configuration and continual optimization can a hotel WLAN be deployed that supports the range of guest applications and devices as well as provides ubiquitous, reliable and robust coverage.
About the author
Galen Collins, Ph.D., Professor at the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (SHRM) at Northern Arizona University, has been with SHRM since its inception in 1987. He is the co-founder of the Hospitality Information Technology Association and has co-authored a hospitality technology textbook and published numerous technology-related articles in academic journals, including the Cornell Quarterly, Journal of Information Technology Impact, FIU Hospitality Review, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education, and Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Cases. Collins' industry experience includes work with Club Corporation of America, Hilton Hotels, Marriott International, Ramada Corporation, Disneyland Hotel, and the Arizona Office of Tourism.
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