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How to Maximize Your Wireless Network

When business travel has been sharply reduced and vacationers are opting for shorter trips and economy hotels, luxury hotels are doubly challenged. On one hand, they must find new efficiencies and watch their costs closely. However, they must also deliver a superior guest experience. The four-star Westin Boston Waterfront found itself in exactly this position.

Connected to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, New England€™s largest convention center, the Westin's location is ideal for business travelers and meeting planners. The hotel itself offers 70,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms and 19 meeting rooms, and is consistently booked.

In 2006 the hotel deployed a traditional microcell wireless network to provide guests with wireless Internet access. When travelers simply required casual access for e-mail, the network was fine. However, the bar for performance has been raised significantly. Today, users expect continuous connectivity and high application performance for rich media, such as video, downloading movies, and social networking. The number and types of devices accessing the network have also mushroomed. From laptops to iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, and numerous other types of devices, the network has to handle whatever device walks in the door.

In ballrooms and meeting rooms, large volumes of users connect simultaneously and roam about the conference center. As the load increased, reliability decreased. And in the competitive Boston hospitality market, the customer experience is a significant element of a hotel's competitive advantage. Rich application access and absolutely unparalleled service at all times is the new minimum requirement.

A high-performance network
After evaluating its options, the Westin migrated from its existing microcell network to a virtualized wireless LAN from Meru. This new approach is designed to make the wireless infrastructure as high-performance and reliable as a wired network, at a fraction of the cost and complexity. The new wireless network pools all network resources and automatically allocates bandwidth and priority so that all devices receive airtime fairness and operate on the same channel. Access points are also deployed at full power, which increased coverage and eliminated the dropped connection issues that users had previously experienced.

The Westin also chose the Meru AP320i access point, which was developed specifically for environments where aesthetics are important. The access points were deployed without having to open the ceiling, and they blend into the hotel's branded environment without calling attention to themselves.

The hotel ambiance is tailored to a sophisticated, business class of individuals and the wireless access points and infrastructure must not compromise its aesthetics. Guests want to know that they will receive the highest service in wireless access, without reminders about how it's provided to them through unattractive, obtrusive access points. After looking at competing solutions, Meru's proven virtualized wireless LAN approach combined with its inconspicuous packaging proved to be the ideal solution.

The IT team replaced the entire wireless network in the meeting rooms, ballrooms, and a guest room floor in one day. Users noticed the difference immediately; dropped connections virtually ceased and everyone experiences high performance, no matter where they are in the facility.

The Westin also delivers back-of-the-house applications over the same wireless network, increasing its return on investment. Tranquility and seamless service is an important element of the Westin guest experience. As other hotels have experienced, providing mobile staff with pagers or walkie-talkies can be inefficient and noisy. Using wireless Vocera Communication Badges, hotel staff, such as bellmen, engineering, banquets, and housekeeping, can communicate instantly and know the nature of a call, so that they can respond to a specific need without having to find a phone or go to the lobby to find out what is needed. The wireless Vocera solution has improved workflow and helped ensure that guest needs are met quickly and responsively.

Solutions like the Westin's virtualized wireless LAN are helping hotels address seemingly contradictory challenges. From the front to the back of the house, wireless technology is making it significantly easier to deliver an outstanding guest experience.

Gabriel Larralde is the director of information technology for the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel and is responsible for all onsite telecom and IT services. His responsibilities include piloting new technology solutions that will streamline business operations and increase customer satisfaction, managing new deployments from the planning phase through implementation.

Beware the Bandwidth Hogs
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