Winning the Bandwidth Battle

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Winning the Bandwidth Battle

By Tammy Mastroberte, Contributing Editor - 10/09/2017

With each passing year, hotel guests increase their demand for bandwidth. According to Hospitality Technology’s 2017 Customer Engagement Technology Study, 89% of consumers say they make booking decisions based on hotels offering free, reliable WiFi. Guests also arrive on property brandishing more than one WiFi-enabled device, and more and more are looking to stream television shows and movies on those personal devices.

“Bandwidth demand increases about 10% to 20% every year, due to streaming audio and video and that most people carry at least two wireless devices with them when going to a hotel,”  says Brett Walter, NIKTEK LLC managed service provider for Saybrook Point Inn and Spa (www.saybrook.com).  “People want to have the same creature comforts from their home, such as massive bandwidth used for Netflix.”

In the past two and a half years, Saybrook upgraded bandwidth two times, starting with a 10 Mbit fiber optic connection for business use and adding an additional 50 Mbit copper connection for guests. Then they upgraded to a 50 Mbit fiber and 150 Mbit copper connection two years ago provided by Comcast Business (https://business.comcast.com/). 

Hotels not only need more bandwidth to cover guest demands, but operations increasingly call for more capacity. To address this, Saybrook recently upgraded again to an all-fiber network with a 500 Mbit connection from Comcast to handle all business and guest connections.

In today’s bandwidth world, hotels should be evaluating bandwidth consumption and guest satisfaction on a weekly basis, says Bob Combie, SVP of technology at Seaview Investors (http://seaviewinvestors.com/), currently operating three properties, with another three in the pipeline.  

Whether looking to build a new hotel or update one with an existing infrastructure, operators are evaluating price and need, and deciding between copper or fiber networks. Fiber entered the scene 10 years ago after companies such as Verizon (www.verizon.com) were using it to handle residential homes. It then moved into apartment complexes in downtown cities because the fiber could carry the signals a longer distance than copper, says John Hoover, marketing committee chair at APOLAN (http://apolanglobal.org/), a non-profit organization involved in the Passive Optical LAN marketplace.

Hotels have traditionally used copper-based local area networks (LAN) to meet guest and back-office connectivity needs. However, copper has limited bandwidth and with the rapid growth of demand each year, it is getting harder for copper networks to keep up. Fiber networks, although originally thought to be more expensive and more difficult to install, are gaining a new reputation.

“The installation of fiber has become easier over the past decade, and fiber has greater strength than copper so you can pull it harder and connectors can be put on faster,” says Hoover, explaining hotels also need to use less of it. “It’s a point to multi-point so one fiber can hold 128 GB compared to one copper that can hold 1 GB.”

In the past, copper cabling was more budget-friendly than fiber, but this is changing, says Combie. When he consulted on a project for the Andaz Scottsdale Resort and Spa by Hyatt, they realized it was actually $100,000 cheaper to go with fiber.

One reason for this is because fiber can support bandwidth for longer distances than copper, requiring less access points, switches and real estate for data closets in a hotel, which is especially important with new builds. With a copper network, there must be Ethernet equipment every 300 feet because it can’t travel farther than that without more power, says Hoover. In contrast, a passive optical network with fiber can go 12 miles and serve a tall building with only one aggregation and switch in the main data center.

“If I am at a resort, I can reach a clubhouse, poolside bar, meeting rooms and more with just one switch for the whole property,” he says.

Also, because fiber can handle more bandwidth, it is easier to upgrade and increase bandwidth without having to rip out old cabling or make major changes, Walter notes. The hotel can contact the provider and ask for an increase to be activated, and with fiber’s ability to support higher bandwidth, the network is provisioned for 10 or 20 years in the future, he says.

At Saybrook, they have a 10 GB internal fiber network that supports the property core infrastructure and guest network. They upgraded two years ago from a 1 GB copper infrastructure to support the higher speed access points and the increasing use of other operational tasks moving toward automated and computer-based processes, according to Walter.

This includes a new cloud-based booking system called B4checkin from Agilysys (www.agilysys.com), which handles reservations online, online payments, and a housekeeping module that uses iPads to communicate to the front desk when the rooms are ready. Housekeepers also use Skype for Business to chat with the front desk rather than using a radio, and the Marina Bar, Pool and outdoor seating at the restaurant use wireless tablets for the point-of-sale system by Agilysys, explains John Lombardo, general manager at Saybrook.

Evaluating Access Points

Having access points placed correctly and remaining operational is also key to connectivity, says Combie, who is using Corning (www.corning.com) for a new build. He recommends having someone monitoring them at all times to make sure they don’t go down. 

At Saybrook, they have Aruba by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (http://www.arubanetworks.com/products/networking/) access points that provide wireless coverage to an average of 250 devices at one time, and hundreds more during events or meetings. With load balancing, many guests can watch a streaming video or make a WiFi call while jumping from access point to access point across the property without losing connection, says Walter. These are monitored at all times to check for any outages or problems, and they send alerts via email, as well as daily executive reports to analyze usage.

Access points also need to be upgraded to handle more bandwidth, and while Saybrook installed 802.11ac protocol devices recently during new construction, the property is now moving towards replacing any legacy wireless-N devices that remain with 802.11ac Wave 2 devices, which are multi-gigabit access points, he notes.

“The replacement schedule  is somewhere around five years,” he notes. “It seems every two years there is a new breakthrough in this area, and the latest is the multi-gigabit access points."