6 Steps to a Robust Network

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6 Steps to a Robust Network

By Julie Ritzer Ross, Contributing Editor - 03/07/2018

While hotel guests continue to demand a wealth of services and “perks,” high-quality Internet and Wi-Fi service rank at the top of the list. According to HT’s 2017 Customer Engagement Technology Study, 89% of guests make booking decisions based on if the hotel offers free Wi-Fi. However, as many have realized, “free” doesn’t always mean “good.”  HT has identified six steps to address network demands:

Get a handle on bandwidth needs and usage

In many instances, operators and guests believe that they need higher bandwidth than is really the case. Graeme Powell, founder of hospitality technology consultancy Veridicum Ltd., pegs the actual bandwidth requirement for Skype audio at 30KB; for screen sharing, at 128KB; for video calling, at 400KB; for HD Skype video calling, at 1.2MB, and for HD video, at 5MB to 8MB. 

“The average perception is nowhere near this,” Powell states. He recommends keeping in mind that hotels’ peak bandwidth requirements far exceed those for the other times of the day and night and should be adjusted accordingly. Many properties, he said, “run at about 25 percent overall bandwidth utilization as a result” of the differential.

Assessing and periodically reassessing how the hotel is using bandwidth helps hoteliers identify where allocation is inadequate and set usage priorities. Nomadix Inc. advocates leveraging packet inspection solutions to determine whether guests are utilizing Internet more to download movies or make VOIP calls.

Identify and address related issues

Guests occasionally perceive bandwidth to be slow, when in reality, there is packet loss somewhere in the connection across the Internet. In other words, the problem is the quality of the connection and not the available speed. Experts say quality of service (QoS) issues should be handled at the gateway; otherwise, little can be done to maintain fairness in bandwidth allocation, improve the caliber of service to individual devices, and support premium services, like high-fidelity videoconferencing. 

Implement bandwidth-shaping/allocation and monitoring tools

These are the best vehicles for ensuring that guests do not use excessive volumes of bandwidth, slowing down service and leaving other guests and staff with little or none for themselves. 

“One way of utilizing bandwidth-shaping tools to ensure that guests don’t try to utilize more bandwidth than is available is by capping the bandwidth available to each individual guest,” Powell explains. “This enables hotels to create a two-tier solution” — one paid tier and one free tier or one tier for loyalty program members and the other for non-members. “Hotels could also opt to cap the lower tier and to make the upper tier uncapped, but this does create a risk in a very crowded scenario in that the upper tier wouldn’t be any faster than the basic tier.”

There are various options and criteria operators can use when allocating bandwidth. GX2 Technology recommends layer 7 bandwidth allocation that prioritizes business-critical applications and users; prioritization is based on source, user, destination, and service group. Web category-based bandwidth allocation is based on website categories (webmail, social media, etc.) and applies upload/download limits. In time-based bandwidth allocation, the particular time of day serves as a baseline for “assigning” bandwidth volumes. With burstable allocation, bandwidth is allocated to all users when a surplus exists and idle bandwidth is automatically assigned to other applications.

Look for “work-arounds” to maximize performance without added expense

Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solutions that perform bandwidth orchestration permit property-wide bandwidth to be controlled and managed utilizing existing circuits in concert with one another for optimal performance. Operators can minimize costs by harnessing the communications lines they already have in place. DSL was not an option due to proximity to the central office for Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, Calif. according to Gunnar Amundson, IT manager. “Fiber was an option, but was too expensive for us to offer complimentary Internet access,” which hotel management considers an imperative.

Mushroom Networks’ Truffle SD-WAN orchestration appliances were used to bond together three business-grade WAN circuits, increasing the property’s bandwidth capacity by 300 percent and providing its network with dynamic failover capabilities. Ongoing Internet sessions are shielded from any WAN outages and performance fluctuations, as long as at least one of the WAN connections stays up. At the same time, Amundson notes, the cost savings achieved via such a work-around were about 70% more than with any other approach. 

Some properties elect to utilize phone lines or existing coaxial cable and distribute bandwidth through a cable modem termination system. Here the recommended approach is to have a gateway where the backhaul resources are aggregated by a broadband bonding router and then distributed via local network. For local network connectivity, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or Ethernet over powerlines are alternatives. 

Consider central authentication

HTNG’s Centralized Authentication Workgroup holds that central authentication solutions deliver a “consistent, reliable guest Wi-Fi experience across all properties” — one that can be “amended once for the entire estate.” By contrast, the user authentication journey typically differs somewhat from provider to provider, and although operators can minimize the differences by requiring guests to follow a particular authentication standard, small differences usually remain.

Centralized authentication improves and personalizes guests’ use of hotel bandwidth because their devices can be recognized at any property within a given chain or brand, as well as pre-authorized while not connected to the hotel network. That centralized authentication paves the way for enabling secure network connections and creating personal area networks (PANs) to facilitate communication between two devices being utilized in one room. The workgroup concluded that centralized authorization supports marketing initiatives built on global analytics. The solutions let operators collate bandwidth usage data from properties and analyze it alongside data from other systems to better understand and engage with guests.

6 Test, test, and test some more

Testing  of throughput heads off guest disappointment with network performance. At Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Salt Lake City, such tests were performed to ensure the new Wi-Fi network would perform as expected. Bruce Goluskin, IT director, believes regular testing is one of the  reasons that guest satisfaction with the property’s Wi-Fi services hovers around 95%. Hotel operators should periodically review bandwidth usage and saturation over a period of time. They can then draw comparisons to pre-established thresholds of when extra bandwidth would be required and resolve issues before they have a negative impact on guest satisfaction.