Guests appreciate an effortless, personalized experience from booking through check-in, the stay and post-checkout, and that requires identifying the guest and providing seamless handoffs across cellular, Wi-Fi and personal area networks, according to Avaya. Seamless connectivity and intelligent, virtualized, secure and well-managed Wi-Fi networks enable hoteliers to shape an outstanding experience for guests both through Internet connectivity and the devices hotels use to serve them.
Here are four emerging technologies and how hoteliers are considering them for next-gen connectivity strategies:
1. Hotspot 2.0/3.0
Hoteliers are adopting Hotspot 2.0 to help enable the seamless handoff of traffic between cellular and Wi-Fi networks that guests want without requiring additional user sign-on and authentication. According to Global Reach, phase three of the Hotspot 2.0 rollout — release one has been deployed and release two, rolling out now, brought client profiles and remediation — represents a huge opportunity for hoteliers because it removes other barriers to seamless authentication and allows them to segment and control guest engagement directly to the device. That means hotels can manage the service levels that different guests receive, such as conference attendee or spa user versus registered guest, and can make the Wi-Fi network intelligent, while controlling the guest experience across all properties under the brand.
Hotspot 2.0 also solves some issues that previous authentication technologies could not, such as giving guests confidence that they are on the official hotel network and not a spoof, and encrypting data to protect their privacy and security. Most hardware is Hotspot 2.0 ready, and integration is straightforward via changes to the Wi-Fi network configuration, Global Reach says. But the need for a guest to download a client or profile will be an issue for some.
“We’ve had limited success with getting our guests to download in our test environments. So that’s a big concern of mine,” says Jeff Parker, VP of hospitality systems at RLHC, which uses Eleven Software. “From a technology standpoint I absolutely love it. It’s secure. People just get on. It’s seamless.”
Parker is also enthusiastic about the ability to create dynamic room area networks for personal content sharing, set top boxes and IoT, and the idea of clientless authentication that Hotspot 3.0 may bring. Rising guest demand for secure connections “will force us into a position where we need to have better solutions for them and Hotspot 2.0 absolutely is one of those better solutions,” Parker says.
The hype machine has already started for 5G cellular networks, including the notion that it could eliminate the need for Wi-Fi. While it’s true that 5G promises some great things — low latency, faster speeds, better availability and more data-friendliness — most experts agree it is far from a Wi-Fi replacement, especially in hotels.
According to Eleven, 5G’s use of high frequency bands makes it much harder for radio waves to penetrate obstructions such as walls. That can present issues getting around dense materials such as marble, impeding penetration indoors.
“It’s a different platform. The frequency is different, the speed is different, the footprint is smaller than we have today,” says Javier Garcia, director of global infrastructure at Mandarin Oriental. “So it will require more towers, more radios mounted in different places,” and it will take a while to spread from cities to suburbs to remote areas where many resorts are located.
However, Garcia is intrigued by the possibility of one day leveraging 5G infrastructure and fiber to bring Internet to its more challenging locations, such as its Marrakech property where 20 megabits per second of Internet bandwidth currently costs more than $8,000 a month.
Mandarin Oriental has used distributed antenna systems (DAS) to bring micro-cells into its properties. But those are carrier-specific, so Garcia is now considering CBRS, the US 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service. CBRS promises to be carrier neutral, meaning that the hotel can provide a CBRS platform with radios so traffic can be hauled through the Wi-Fi infrastructure and can be used to connect to different carriers. However, this would require embedding and enabling CBRS radios in devices, so it remains to be seen how the market will unfold.
4. Wi-Fi 802.11AX/Wi-Fi 6
While 5G won’t replace Wi-Fi, the next Wi-Fi release, 802.11 AX — also being branded as Wi-Fi 6 for simplicity — promises to help hoteliers solve some current challenges. The AX release offers faster speeds, better density, power efficiency, fairness of airtime and brings a carrier-grade network into the hotel, especially when combined with Hotspot 2.0. AX’s robust, carrier-like design even makes it possible for hotels to take on cellular overload — and be compensated by carriers, a way to help offset the investment.
One operator monitoring AX closely is Carnival Cruise Lines. Like many cruise lines, its vessels are signal-unfriendly, steel-intensive structures, surrounded by water, carrying Wi-Fi-loving guests with as many as 7,000 devices. A ship’s wireless infrastructure must last three years, until the next drydock — and its wired infrastructure, installed by Belkin, must last 30. AX brings some clear benefits to a cruise ship with such challenges.
“More clients connected to a single access point will save you cost and weight,” says Paul Whitney, IT director, new builds and refurbishments. “A technology that allows us to connect more with less is certainly appealing to us, and the speed capabilities on the back end, being able to burst up to the 6.0 specs from where we are today, is important.”
In the meantime, Carnival is eyeing removal of its 2.4GHz access points within the next two years as demand has flipped largely to the 5GHz band, to reduce troubleshooting burdens. Carnival is also increasing its cache of popular third-party content to reduce demand for each ship’s satellite connectivity, which depends heavily on weather and positioning for good signal.