In addition to cleanliness and decor, hotel visitors rate Internet access as the most important feature when booking accommodation. Unfortunately though, many hotels battle with guaranteed uptime and throughput.
Maintaining ratings is based on a number of factors for hoteliers and lodge owners. Obviously, the décor and amenities play a large role in winning favour with guests, but there is another element that is fast becoming a decision maker when guests weigh up their accommodation options. Internet and cellular connectivity are considered non-negotiable for business people and holidaymakers alike. Ensuring that the connection is of a high standard, with guaranteed uptime and throughput is, however, something that many establishments battle with.
According to Marco de Ru, CTO at wireless convergence company MiRO, it is understandable that lodge owners and hoteliers are not IT specialists and therefore they may make incorrect choices when implementing a Wi-Fi solution. “Hotel and lodge management are generally bombarded with irrelevant information such as IEEE operating standards, throughput capacity and so forth. This may result in them selecting a Wi-Fi solution that one would typically use for a home environment, based primarily on price.”
Certain steps are critical to ensure reliability of connection. The first is finding an experienced installer or system integrator with a proven track record, preferably in the hospitality sector, who will select technology that will optimise the guest Wi-Fi experience. Hand-in-glove with this goes the appointment of an internet service provider (ISP) who can provide sufficient bandwidth and high levels of throughput. A Service Level Agreements (SLA) must be provided, outlining appropriate levels of network and user support, as well as remote monitoring of the system, to provide proactive maintenance.
Three questions generally need to be answered when planning a solution: (1) What is the size of the establishment? (2) What type of traffic will be allowed on the Wi-Fi network? (3) Is a hotspot management service required?
De Ru explains that understanding the physical structure allows for provision of the best possible solution as Wi-Fi signals are quickly dampened by brick walls and concrete ceilings, especially for devices operating in the 5GHz frequency.
If users are permitted to freely browse the internet and access streaming services such as Netflix, and allow file sharing like torrent services, one needs to be aware that these services are bandwidth hungry and can quickly bring the Wi-Fi network to a standstill. Finally, a hotspot management service or portal allows establishment management to manage and control guest access.
The deployment of Wi-Fi routers and switches as well as strategically placed access points (APs) will provide guests with an opportunity to communicate and achieve internet connectivity, even when their cellular service provider’s signal is weak.
Security of networks is a common issue and this needs to be addressed by hoteliers as a priority. “Deploying the latest managed switches or routers to effectively route internet traffic across the network is a good first step. These switches and routers offer greater security features and can direct internet packets to the appropriate recipients only, rather than to all parties on the network. The networks should also take advantage of the switches’ Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) capabilities, which allows multiple networks to be running in a secure environment off the same switch,” says De Ru.
A solution recommended by MiRO is Open-Mesh Wi-Fi access points and switches. The Open Mesh technology is characterised by its simplicity of installation and ease of use. By registering an account on the Open Mesh cloud-based management system, one can set up a guest network SSID (Service Set Identifier – the name that guests will connect to), then when users log in it can divert the traffic to either the establishment’s landing page or through to its Facebook page.
Voucher-based authentication can be enabled, with customisation determining how much upstream and downstream speed each device will be allowed, how much data will be free, or allowing integration with a third-party hotspot billing solution like Cloud4Wi or Purple WiFi. Management can also have a separate SSID for the reception desk or for the accounts team.
Once all Wi-Fi SSIDs have been created, one simply adds the access points to the CloudTrax management platform by using the device’s MAC (Media Access Control) address. “Then you simply power up the devices and ensure that they do have internet access, whereafter the device will automatically look for the CloudTrax information and the configuration will be pushed down to each access point,” says De Ru.
A major benefit Open-Mesh provides is that it is a MESH Wi-Fi network. This means that not all access points need to be connected by network cables – the range of the wireless network can be expanded by simply adding new access points in areas with poor Wi-Fi signals and connecting them to a power outlet. These access points will connect wirelessly to the network and expand the reach and signal quality of the network (MESH). This is very convenient in buildings where it is not easy or aesthetically possible to run new network cables.
“One of the key aspects in a successful Wi-Fi deployment include the focus on the initial design, configuration and implementation of the system. The problem affecting most installations comes down to infrastructure and the coordination of the location of wireless access points and the associated cabling. MiRO’s technical team is able to assist WISPs, installers and integrators with customising a solution that will factor in all the elements of a successful Wi-Fi deployment,” says De Ru.