Service with a Signal Trumps Service with a Smile

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How reliable cellular coverage can link customer experience and revenue in hospitality

Service with a Signal Trumps Service with a Smile

By Ingo Flomer, CTO, Cobham Wireless - 10/18/2019

“Service with a smile” used to be the simple, but effective golden rule to ensuring positive feedback from customers. Reviews and recommendations are the lifeblood of the hospitality industry, but so fierce is the competition for customers’ time and money that guests now expect far more when visiting a venue. In this always-on, digital world, customers expect to be able to maintain their digital lifestyle, no matter where they are. “Service with a smile” doesn’t carry as much weight when customers don’t look away from their phones or tablets long enough to see it!

The connectivity customer service battle is on, and with next-generation 5G networks being slowly rolled out in regions globally, that battle will only intensify. Hospitality venues (from hotels to stadiums) may be aware of the need to deploy robust cellular connectivity, but what opportunities does this present for the industry, and what are the challenges to making it happen?

Value-added cellular services: When Wi-Fi isn’t enough

When it comes to accessing the internet, Wi-Fi often isn’t enough to meet the connectivity demands of multiple users simultaneously. Slow networks when signing in to guest Wi-Fi in venues isn’t unheard of, but slow simply isn’t acceptable anymore. Equally, consumers have grown tired of giving up personal data to sign-in to Wi-Fi networks and prefer to use their cellular networks to browse the web or stream video.

This means that despite the cost of connectivity decreasing in recent years, the demands placed on the cellular network are growing all the time. Venues need robust and reliable connectivity to allow customers to do everything they would do at home – and more.

Super-fast connectivity for customers may not provide a direct revenue stream, but the applications it enables can create additional revenue. Reliable cellular coverage in stadiums, for example, can power in-house apps, which support concessions or merchandise purchasing, as well as allowing fans to share content on social media.

As 5G becomes more widespread, the opportunities will increase. 5G’s greater bandwidth and lower-latency will be capable of supporting AR and VR experiences, while venues can also use a technique known as network slicing to create higher-performing sections of the network, with connectivity exclusively available to VIP and hospitality guests.Robust in-building connectivity can also power cost-saving efficiencies behind the scenes. In venues like hotels, this can be seen in the shape of in-house communications tools for staff and reduced queuing time for guests, who are able to use their phone to check-in and unlock their room door. We’ll also see cellular networks connecting everything from emergency management systems to overhead smart speakers (for those of us who like to sing in the shower!).

“Service with a smile” doesn’t carry as much weight when customers don’t look away from their phones or tablets long enough to see it!

Building a solution to work in-building

There is a good understanding of the benefits strong cellular connectivity can bring to hospitality businesses, so why then do some venues still have poor signal? Predominantly because of the construction materials utilized. Large amounts of concrete or metal can reduce or impede mobile signals coming from outdoors. This will be the case with 5G and the higher-frequency millimetre wave bands earmarked for the network as well. Basements and cellars will experience the same issues, as will areas with buildings clustered together, because the signal gets weaker as it bounces off each building. 

The solution to this is a dedicated in-building digital DAS coverage system, which can deliver high-quality and multi-operator coverage that overcomes the signal degradation caused by building structures. Digital DAS can also enable users to shift the capacity of the network, moving coverage around different areas of a venue as more or less coverage is required, reducing costs and energy consumption. Crucially, these systems can be installed to support 4G and then upgraded to be compatible with 5G as 5G-enabled devices become more commonplace.

Mobile operators are reluctant to fund these systems due to the relatively small ROI they receive, so venue owners themselves are now turning to the neutral host model. A venue can set up its own DAS, installed by a system integrator and then lease out these networks to mobile operators to generate an extra source of revenue.

Connectivity is becoming an essential part of the guest experience. Hospitality venues should consider the benefits of strong and reliable cellular coverage, and the potential long-term impact on their businesses of investing in cellular solutions now.