The Past, Present and Future of Hospitality Communications
It’s become an annual tradition to publish my thoughts and opinions on where I foresee advancements, trends and growth in the communications industry and how they will affect end-user markets such as hospitality. Before crafting this year’s forecast, I looked back at previous years and noticed four trends that repeatedly showed up as they continued to develop and evolve over time.
In 1996, the first commercial push-to-talk (PTT) service was introduced in the U.S. Though acceptance has taken longer in the public sector, it’s been readily adopted in the private sector, particularly by the hospitality segment. Radio range and audio quality shortcomings, combined with cost prohibitive infrastructure, prompted hoteliers to look for alternatives. They learned that by augmenting Land Mobile Radio (LMR) devices with PTT applications on smartphones, which most employees carry on the job anyway, staff could communicate when radios couldn’t.
Since then, PTT has evolved exponentially, primarily driven by the advent of LTE networks. PTT morphed into Push-to-Talk over Cellular (PoC), and hotels began incorporating Apple watches, smartphones or tablets optimized by PTT accessories, which became even more advanced. In the lodging industry, communications can range from simple guest requests to full-scale emergencies, and myriad in between. Early adopters of PoC have not only achieved more seamless communications, but reduced operating costs by leveraging existing Wi-Fi infrastructure. In addition. it’s given many hotel properties an extra competitive edge, which is one of the key contributing factors to the industry’s rapid transition from LMR to PoC systems.
All in One Convenience
Businesses and consumers alike continue to clamor for communications devices that multi-task. On the whole, the hospitality industry has been fraught with technology deficiencies in disparate areas, which affect efficiency, productivity and profits. Thus, the trend toward merging communications with other hotel operations under one solution, including safety, tracking, monitoring, etc. Luckily, smarter and more all-encompassing applications are emerging every day. Now, not only can these apps integrate hotel operations, many can also deliver instant voice and text messaging as well.
These days, most hoteliers are focused on using every available technology to enhance and hyper-personalize the guest experience. Multi-purpose communication devices can help transform customer service from good to superior. Plus, the benefits extend beyond guests to include employee experience as well. By consolidating programs into hands-free communication devices, staff equipment and workloads are lightened.
Consumer dependency on mobile devices has pushed integrated messaging to even higher levels. A few years ago, major messaging platforms introduced Chatbots and hotels began offering messaging services for guests. Now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered Chatbots that all but eliminate human interaction and interact in an almost completely natural way with guests, will further boost the guest experience. However, few hoteliers, have realized the full potential for this burgeoning technology. As AI becomes more sophisticated, independents and chains will find new ways to enhance every phase of the travel/stay experience.
Regardless of smarter applications, purpose-built intuitive devices and more efficient communications technologies, it takes a powerful network services to make it all work.
The Network Stream
My philosophy is: "It’s all about the network."
Virtually all properties now have robust Wi-Fi networks, but these could be augmented by 5G mobile broadband services, which is really just a super-fast version of 4G. Because there’s always another network coming around the corner, I prefer to call it “the next evolution network.” We’ve come a long way since analog. Digital narrowband, Third Generation (3G), Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Internet of Things (IoT) are just a handful of next evolution networks that have arisen over the years. The existing Wi-Fi network is basically free, but it is also vulnerable to hacking, interference and failure. Therefore, important network functions will utilize back up and redundant services such as LTE/4G/5G.
As IoT-based smart home technologies become more entrenched in everyday life, consumers will expect similar, if not smarter capabilities from hotel rooms. Biometric technologies are already used to simplify guest processes, but soon in-room voice assistance will become a mandatory offering. In addition to AI, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) enhancements continue to rise, integrating new features into hotel apps, area maps and more. To fulfill increasingly elaborate technological demands, the lodging industry will need to synchronize underlying systems and support them with reliable connectivity.
This brings us back to why I believe it’s all about the network.
IoT Telemetry is next in line for fifteen minutes of fame. Telemetry predates the Internet of Things by many years. The word is derived from Greek roots: tele, meaning remote, and metron, meaning measure. An apt name to describe this automated communications process for collecting measurements and other data from remote places to monitor and analyze.
Sensors play a key role in telemetry as a source of data input. For example, Pryme recently developed an IoT device to monitor sewer flow in Taiwan to mitigate illegal dumping. Experiential telemetry is already being used in hospitality to gather data for improving guest experience. Now, real-time instant feedback platforms give hotels a direct line of communication with guests to help address specific needs and deepen relationships. The recent arrival of higher quality facial recognition enables hotels to monitor guest emotions, while robots equipped with radar and sensors add yet another dimension to the customer service experience.
Meanwhile, I see early stage development of new sensor peripherals that will enhance the usefulness of “Smart” devices. To help provide privacy and security, most likely many of these sensor enhancements could be “tethered” to the specific guest’s communications device. If using 5G or other wireless networks, it’s no longer necessary for the property to maintain Wi-Fi modems/routers for critical guest services, and for most other services, short range communications that talk directly to the guest’s smart device would suffice. This could dramatically reduce the complexity and cost of sensors.
Where does IoT fit in to telemetry? Though the current data rate may be fairly low for reading measurements like room temperature, once there are hundreds or thousands of devices in play, suddenly it becomes big data, which is IoT territory. Just as other aspects of communications are evolving, so have the opportunities for IoT and telemetry.
Designing unique and specialized sensors is a direction I see Pryme moving toward. We already have extensive experience with design and development or unique housings and hardware and there are more IoT / RFID chips and modules available every day from major players like Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, Qualcomm, Nordic and dozens more for us to put in our products.
Whether you label it hindsight or foresight, history has always paved the way for the future, not only in hospitality communications, but in every aspect of life.
Dave George, Chief Technologist and President of Pryme Radio, holds 29 patents and is the inventor of multiple award-winning products. An RF engineer for over 40 years, George is a key influencer in the public sector’s transition from radio to broadband. He is considered an industry thought leader whose keen insight is renowned in the communications technology field. Aside from running a successful communications accessory company, George also coaches a Southern California high school robotics team.