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Is Super Wi-Fi on the Horizon for Hotels?

Could Super Wi-Fi save the day for hotels struggling with connectivity? A wireless technology that could someday help in the deployment and expansion of Wi-Fi services in hotels and their surrounding grounds and recreational areas is Super Wi-Fi. The term was originally coined by the Federal Communications Commission with the intention of creating new longer-distance wireless Internet access in both metropolitan and rural areas. 

Super Wi-Fi uses the TV broadcast spectrum or the lower-frequency white spaces (50 MHz to 700 MHz range) between television channels. The lower-frequency Super Wi-Fi signals travel further (up to 6 miles or more) and are better at penetrating common obstructions and covering large expanses than the higher-frequency Wi-Fi signals.

In 2013, the University of West Virginia at Morgantown, in partnership with Advanced Internet Regions Consortium (Air.U), began using Super Wi-Fi technology to provide free Wi-Fi access for students and faculty at the Public Rapid Transit (PRT) platforms, a 73-car tram system that transports more than 15,000 riders daily and is located miles from campus. AIR.U, a consortium of higher education groups, technology companies (e.g., Microsoft and Google), and non-profits, is aiming to upgrade wireless broadband infrastructure in underserved colleges and their surrounding communities. According to Tim Williams, director of network operations and telecommunications at the University of West Virginia, Super Wi-Fi has provided PRT passengers with a reliable, congestion-free Internet connection at 12 to 15 Mbps.

Some may argue that there is nothing “Super” about Super Wi-Fi with a peak rate of 29 Mbps, which is slow compared to the latest Wi-Fi standard (IEEE 802.11ac) designed to deliver throughput rates close to 1 Gbps in a base configuration. However, available white space channels, generally better in less populated areas, can be aggregated to scale up bandwidth. For example, in Morgantown around 12 channels are available for aggregation according to Bob Nichols, CEO of Declaration Networks Group and AIR.U co-founder.

Super Wi-Fi is presently incompatible with Wi-Fi because it uses different frequencies, requiring specially designed equipment (e.g., frequency translator) for it to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Super Wi-Fi simply does not inter-operate with billions of Wi-Fi devices in use today and will require the development of chipsets which are able to function with both technologies. Nichols predicts that by 2015, smartphones will be equipped with chipsets capable of accessing white space frequencies because of the November 2013 approval of the IEEE 802.11af White-Fi standard.

Super Wi-Fi devices will also need to sense spectrum use and negotiate with a global database for allocation of available spectrum to ensure they do not cause interference with any licensed users in its current location. Consequently, Super Wi-Fi implementations in hotel environments (none in the U.S.) are presently limited to long-haul wireless transfer (last mile infrastructure) where local connections to guest devices are via standard Wi-Fi.  

For example, the 300-room Hotel Camodiana in Phnom Penh, Cambodia installed two Super Wi-Fi access points (base stations with directional antennas) mounted on street light poles, one in front of the hotel and the other at the back of the hotel.  This hybrid solution, which provides coverage for all of the hotel areas including guestrooms, greatly shortened the deployment. It can also significantly reduce labor and cabling costs and increase reliability according to Russ Johnson, former property technology solutions architect for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Super Wi-Fi has the potential of making Wi-Fi services easily available in every nook and cranny of a large sprawling urban resort, including a massive golf course.  While hoteliers may never see the need to install Super Wi-Fi systems due to their property’s wireless needs or advancements in long-range wireless networks, such as cellular Long Term Evolution (LTE) services, they must understand the impact of existing and emerging wireless technologies and standards on wireless access architectures to avoid obsolescence and wasted capital while also leveraging opportunities for creating efficient, versatile, and cost-effective Wi-Fi networks.
Galen Collins, Ph.D. is a professor for the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University.
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