Long gone are the days when internet was a “nice to have” amenity. Today’s guests often travel with multiple connected devices that require greater bandwidth for activities like streaming video and virtual meetings. What’s more, hotel teams and properties are increasingly reliant on the same infrastructure that supports guest WiFi networks. Three hospitality technology experts shared with LODGING their recommendations for investing in a property’s connectivity infrastructure to meet modern guest and operational demands.
Gary Patrick, CEO of Hotel Internet Services, says the trend towards guest service digitalization and the growing prevalence of smart technology in hotels has led to property internet networks being even more essential to operations and guest satisfaction rates. “Today’s hotel networks are required to be faster, more robust, and able to provide consistent reliability across a property to prevent lapses in service quality. A network that fails to live up to these increasing needs not only risks bringing various property systems requiring an online connection to a grinding halt but will inevitably fall below modern guest expectations, resulting in a drop in business reputation and revenue,” Patrick explains.
Guests are emerging from the pandemic with greater expectations around ubiquitous WiFi access while at the same time these networks are becoming mission-critical to operations, notes Beth Milano, senior vice president, sales and commercial development for Cloud5 Communications. “Hotels are looking to increasingly leverage new on-premise technologies that depend on connectivity, such as contactless check-in, mobile ordering, and POS payments. These trends reflect the need to dramatically increase network bandwidth and lower latency,” she explains. “Additionally, as we emerge from the pandemic, many brands are re-engaging their brand standards in ways we have not seen since 2019. This will put increased pressure on properties to get their networks compliannt quickly and efficiently.”
However, most hotel properties were not built with this level of connectivity in mind. As Robert Grosz, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, World Cinema Inc., explains, “One of the biggest challenges we see are properties that simply have no infrastructure and have a very difficult path to get infrastructure in place. Maybe it’s behind plaster walls. Maybe it’s in an area that’s not too accessible. Maybe there are no pathways between a telecom room and the guest suites. Those are very challenging things to overcome, and they require really good thinking and strategy.”
Grosz suggests hoteliers consider their digital infrastructure—whether wired, fiber, or wireless networks—as a separate class of assets within the building. “Whether it’s your risers, your horizontal pathways to the room, areas you can securely mount access points to or radios to, your rooftop space, or your basement level, where oftentimes a lot of the equipment is housed, there’s infrastructure in every single building that could be called digital infrastructure,” he describes. “You have to manage that as a separate asset, and you should have someone either on staff or someone you work with from the world of vendors that understands that very well and knows what the next trends are going to be and what the best practices are. If you don’t have that, you’re probably leaving money on the table and opening your asset up to risks like not having quality internet connectivity for your guests, staff, and building systems.” The latter encompasses things like HVAC systems, smart glass windows, and other connected systems throughout the physical structure.
With that in mind, Grosz suggests hoteliers factor digital infrastructure into their property improvement plans and time any upgrades with other disruptive work on the hotel to reduce overall downtime for rooms and common areas. For wireless networks, common issues like slow speeds, dropped connections, and dead zones are often caused by the placement of WiFi access points throughout a property, Patrick explains. “In years past, it was often the case that access points would be installed within guestroom hallways as the approach tended to be sufficient for guests traveling with laptops. However, with today’s low-powered devices, WiFi signals from hallway-based access points are generally not strong enough to penetrate obstacles such as walls to provide such devices with a strong enough signal that they require.”
Patrick recommends hoteliers work with connectivity providers to strategically place access points directly in certain guestrooms to provide a consistently strong and fast connection for effective and reliable coverage. He adds that manufacturers have designed access points that fit the guestroom aesthetic and are tamperproof.
Smart infrastructure investments not only meet today’s operating and guest needs but position properties to adapt to future demands. To keep pace with evolving guest behavior and technological advancements, Patrick highlights the importance of network scalability. “Hoteliers should invest in hardware that can offer the ability to increase bandwidth, coverage areas, and other features or functionalities as soon as the need arises. With WiFi service quality being so essential to the guest experience and in meeting their expectations, hoteliers should ensure that their network design comes with sufficient redundancies to prevent drops in service quality should one aspect of the network fail or be overloaded with high traffic volumes,” he explains.
To prepare for what’s ahead, Milano says hoteliers need to assess the health of their networks and address bandwidth capacity, latency issues, WAN traffic prioritization, ISP provisioning, load-balancing, security, and equipment efficacy—all of which help ensure reliable connectivity and automatic failover protection. “Seamless, always-on WiFi is no longer an amenity… it’s a necessity.” She has a specific recommendation for upgrading WiFi: “Hotels need to dramatically increase their network bandwidth and lower latency by embracing WiFi 6E. WiFi 6E will change how we design networks and harden security (WPA3), and it will be key to delivering a seamless internet experience as the number of devices per room increases and guest expectations rise.”
When investing in digital infrastructure, Milano advises hoteliers to choose a partner with proven experience in the hospitality space. “A successful upgrade comes down to partnership. Selecting a service partner that has deep hospitality experience, seasoned professionals, and success stories that support their delivery claims is crucial.” Milano adds that global supply chain issues are resulting in equipment shortages, so hoteliers should plan ahead. “Properties that want to upgrade or need to remain compliant with brand standards will need to begin engaging with service providers six to nine months prior to when they need an upgrade installed,” she notes.
Grosz says that when it comes to digital infrastructure upgrades, the lowest cost solutions are not always the best. “You have to focus on the network’s capabilities,” he says, including seamless authentication of guests and their various connected devices and advanced network security. He adds that future innovations such as augmented reality, specifically the metaverse, will rely on a higher quality network experience with lower latency demands (i.e., the time it takes to respond to a network command). “For example, in terms of video resolution, 4k is simply not enough for the metaverse; you need to have a very high-resolution experience so it feels like reality. Although that’s not here today, that’s where things are going in the future,” he explains. “As a hotel, you need to be prepared for better traffic optimization on your network.”
Bigger Bandwidth: Four Trends Impacting Hotel Networks
The hotel technology landscape has evolved significantly since COVID-19 prompted a more widespread adoption of contactless solutions like digital check-in, mobile key, and automated messaging services. More than ever, guests and staff are relying on their devices and consistent internet access for critical functions. Below are four trends driving this increased reliance on hotel networks.
Entertainment preferences. Guests are often traveling with multiple connected devices and increasingly want to use those to watch videos via various apps and subscription streaming services—a particularly bandwidth-intensive behavior, notes Gary Patrick, CEO, Hotel Internet Services.
Bleisure travel. Guests are mixing business and leisure, leading to an influx of personal devices used for activities like streaming video as well as professional functions like virtual conferencing while they’re on the road—both of which require greater bandwidth, explains Beth Milano, senior vice president, sales and commercial development, Cloud5 Communications.
The rise of IoT devices. Hotels now have a multitude of “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices throughout the property—from digital signage to HVAC systems, says Robert Grosz, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, World Cinema Inc. And while these may not be connected to the guest WiFi network, Grosz explains, “they’re connected to the same backbone network that supplies bandwidth to the guest WiFi network.”
Connected staff. Employees also rely on mobile devices to stay connected to a hotel’s systems and perform crucial tasks wherever they are on property. As Grosz points out, “Everyone talks about internet connectivity in terms of guest WiFi, but I think it’s just important to focus on how your staff connects and how your building systems connect.”