How much Internet bandwidth does your property need? William Murray has a simple answer: More than you currently have. His typical guest carries both a smartphone and a laptop computer or tablet, meaning that his hotels require four times more bandwidth than they did five years ago. “Everything is grabbing your WiFi the minute it comes in the door,” says Murray, the general manager of the 135-room Best Western Palm Beach Lakes and the 112-room Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, both in West Palm Beach, Fla. He says properties must be ready to handle the demand. Guest satisfaction surveys show spotty service near the top of the list of customer complaints, and “quick-as-lightning” Internet is no longer considered a luxury—it’s a necessity.
Murray had many business travelers come to the front desk in the past to voice their dissatisfaction. “They said, ‘We’re having a meeting. My function space can’t be down. I’m sorry, but I have to leave,’” says Murray, also the president of the Palm Beach County Hotel and Lodging Association. “It’s not just a complaint at that point. It’s a revenue loss. Fast Internet is that important.”
To rectify such issues and offer a better overall experience, he switched to another Internet provider and jumped to speeds of 150 megabits per second (Mbps) at his locations, but it may not be enough. Murray has a staff member who constantly keeps tabs on Internet usage at his properties—the speed, the slow and fast times, and, if occasions arise, when they’re peaking (or getting close to it). “We are always evaluating,” says Murray. “As of now, we’re safe. However, I have a feeling in less than a year we will be bumping up to 200 Mbps.”
MGM Resorts International also just underwent a major overhaul of its wireless network infrastructure for its properties, including The Mirage, Bellagio, and Mandalay Bay, all in Las Vegas. “We wanted to be on the cutting edge of our industry,” explains Todd Walton, MGM Resorts’ vice president of production services. The multi-million dollar project, which wrapped up this fall, allows MGM Resorts to have 64,000 concurrent users on the campus-wide system, with the ability to boost that number to 120,000 in the future. This includes both convention and public spaces. (Guestrooms have their own dedicated bandwidth.) Across the properties, the company is using speeds of one gigabit per second (Gbps), burstable up to 10 Gbps. “We can carve out as much bandwidth as an individual user wants,” Walton says.
To determine MGM Resorts’ individual property needs, Walton looked at historical numbers and peak demands as well as did some educated guessing. For example, Mandalay Bay, which features 1.7 million square feet of convention and expo space, can attract 20,000 people for an event. “It’s hard to qualify what that demand will be,” he says.
Meeting space requirements are less well understood, agrees Matt Harvey, vice president of client network services for PSAV, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., which provides event technology services in the hotel, resort, and conference center industry. As a general rule of thumb, properties should plan to do an upgrade when they’re hitting 80 percent capacity, he says, adding that anticipating exact Internet needs too far into the future can be an exercise in futility. “The speed at which technology evolves is quicker than anyone can predict,” Harvey says. “The analogy is four years ago nobody knew what an iPad was. Now look at them.”
One of the challenges properties face comes when rethinking how they update their facility, he says. Often, they replace things, such as wallpaper, mattresses, or carpets, in 10-year cycles. “With WiFi and networks, that investment cycle is much shorter,” says Harvey. “I think it took the industry by surprise a couple years ago when owners were asked to replace their first-generation network so quickly. They assumed it was going to be like everything else. That’s not reality. They’re going to have to drop money into this every four or five years in order to keep up with consumer demand.”