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Why WiFi Is Not Enough for Mobile Coverage


Any hotel or restaurant knows that a strong mobile signal has become almost as important to customers as a comfortable bed or tasty menu.

Once, being able to use their smartphones and laptops was a bonus – these days, it’s essential, and in addition, hospitality businesses are increasingly investing in mobile apps and services to differentiate their customer experience - paying the bill or ordering drinks via a handset can enhance a guest’s stay, for instance.

But if the mobile connectivity is slow, or not available in every corner of the building, the effect can be negative. Poor mobile communication is one of the most significant reasons why customers will choose a different hotel or restaurant.  In fact, one-third of leisure travelers say they will not return to a hotel with inadequate wireless access, and this figure rises to 67% for business travelers.

While most businesses are within reach of a mobile base station, the main outdoor network often has difficulties getting a strong signal through walls and into every part of a building. That results in dropped calls when users are in black spots, poor voice quality and slow data – and dissatisfaction.

Nearly everyone in the hospitality sector recognizes the challenge. In a global survey of more than 500 enterprises conducted for Small Cell Forum by Nemertes Research, respondents were asked to rate the importance of good indoor mobile coverage to their business. In the hospitality sector, 44% rated it between 8 and 10.

But very few know what to do about it. In the same survey, only 25% said they had enough knowledge and information to make an informed decision.

Most hospitality businesses have WiFi, and they may think that WiFi will solve these problems. In the Nemertes survey, all the hospitality sector respondents had WiFi networks, and 37% of them rated the performance of their own WiFi systems as very good (8 to 10 out of 10), and 43% as good (5 to 7).

However, the same organizations which were very pleased with their WiFi performance, also said that they had problems with the overall wireless experience they offered their guests and staff. The issues they cited most commonly were dropped calls and unreliable service at peak times, followed by poor voice quality and slow data rates.

In other words, WiFi is not enough on its own. Mobile coverage is also essential.

There is a solution readily available, which can support excellent quality mobile voice and data at affordable cost throughout a building, from a small café to a huge resort. This is the small cell.

A small cell is a compact, low power device similar in appearance to a WiFi router. One or more cells – depending on the size of the building and number of floors - create a zone of mobile coverage and capacity indoors. This addresses the issue of poor penetration through walls, and the capacity of the cell is dedicated to the people within the building, so quality is predictable, and cells can be placed where they are most needed by guests and staff.

Small cells can work together with existing WiFi networks, or alone. Solutions start from a single access point which can be self-installed and connected to the internet via an existing broadband line. This will still provide full cellular coverage with predictable quality and security, for a starting cost as low as $200.

For larger buildings, or as usage requirements grow, the system can be scaled up by adding extra access points to extend coverage to every corner, even in big resorts.

The business case goes beyond guest satisfaction and staff efficiency. Good mobile networks can also support added value services which drive more loyalty and even generate new revenues.

Many of these are possible because the small cell is  localized, which means it can identify when a particular user is within its range.

For instance:

  • Small cells can alert the business to the presence of frequency customers. That enables personalized welcomes or promotions to be delivered to the guest’s smartphone as they enter.
  • Services for frequent guests can be developed to increase loyalty and user experience. For instance, a commuter might order a coffee from their handset, and small cells will notify the barista when that person is close by, so their order is ready in advance.
  • Presence awareness - coupons, offers and mobile advertising can be targeted to users entering or leaving an outlet. This presence information can also help users to find nearby social media contacts.


If the benefits of small cells for hospitality businesses are so clear, why isn’t everybody deploying them?

In the survey, the most common reasons for holding back on deployment, in this sector, were:

  • Insufficient knowledge
  • Complexity to deploy and manage
  • Lack of support from the mobile operator


Small Cell Forum is aware of these barriers and has launched a significant initiative, the Enterprise Advisory Council (EAC), to address them. The first sector to be targeted by this initiative is hospitality, because of the urgency of the requirement in many businesses. This will:

  • promote awareness of small cell solutions
  • reach out to the hospitality industry to understand its requirements and feed these back into frameworks and vendor roadmaps
  • provide information, accessible to non-mobile experts, which will help demystify small cells, offering clear, jargon-free guides to the business advantages of small cells; and to the partnerships and deployment processes which exist to make adoption smooth.


To get involved in Small Cell Forum’s Enterprise Advisory Council or any of its initiatives directed at the hospitality sector, please contact [email protected]

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