3 hospitality wireless trends to watch in 2020

5G will provide much faster data speeds and the connection density necessary to meet the massive demand for the Internet of Things. Photo credit: Getty Images

This past year has seen technology play a larger role in not only hotel operations, but the overall guest experience. As we close the book on 2019 and look ahead to the new year, several key wireless trends are emerging that will shape the industry in 2020 and beyond. 

5G is Top of Mind 

There’s no stopping 5G, and every carrier is talking about it right now. It will continue to be deployed and rolled out in 2020, but it will happen alongside the current 4G Long-Term Evolution network and will not replace 4G LTE anytime soon. The main reason 5G is important is that cellular carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon need more capacity on their networks because more people are relying on cellular connectivity for all aspects of their daily lives. Implementing 5G will improve that capacity. 

5G also will provide much faster data speeds of 20 gigabits per second peak/1 Gbps average for fiber-like speed over a cellular connection, lower latency for the real-time response necessary for artificial intelligence and virtual reality applications, and the connection density to meet the massive demand for the Internet of Things. The Sprint and T-Mobile merger could have a big impact on the industry. Because Sprint owns so much spectrum, Sprint and T-Mobile likely will have the capability to mass-deploy 5G ahead of AT&T and Verizon.

However, 5G also has several potential drawbacks for hotels. 5G’s higher-frequency radio waves can’t pass through obstacles as easily as the frequencies now carrying 4G LTE service. As a result, the shorter wavelength radio waves will be blocked much more easily by a hotel’s building materials such as concrete, brick, glass and even Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building materials. By contrast, 4G LTE waves commonly reach several miles and can stretch as far as 30 miles under certain atmospheric conditions. This will be a complicated problem that will need to be solved as 5G rolls out. 

In-Building Cellular Coverage will Become Even More Critical

More and more systems in hotels and resorts are relying on the ubiquity and security of cellular coverage, and that will continue in 2020. Hotel operators rely on several wireless systems to keep their properties running efficiently at all times, such as guest management systems for easy check-in and check-out, guest payments, facilities management applications, accounting software and more. 

Many hotel security systems and fire alarm systems also are beginning to rely on cellular backup, but they must constantly monitor cellular signal strength because without good signal, the alarm systems could fail, which could be devastating for a hotel operator. Plus, hotels rely on wireless connectivity so staff can stay in touch to ensure guests are taken care of at all times.

While strong cellular connectivity is crucial for hotel operators, it is also a must-have for guests. When it comes to booking hotel accommodation, the most requested amenity is free, high-speed internet. 

Today’s travelers heavily rely on their phones to stay in touch with loved ones while they’re away, conduct business, research local activities and restaurants, map out directions, stream their favorite content and much more. They expect this coverage to be strong and interrupted throughout the hotel, whether they’re in their rooms, the lobby, by the pool or in the hotel restaurant. As a result, having great wireless connectivity will continue to be an important must-have for hotels moving into 2020.

IoT Will Still be Relevant

As IoT applications continue to be more ubiquitous, travelers have come to expect the same connected features and cutting-edge technology from their hotels. As a result, hotels will continue to integrate IoT into their buildings, such as connected vending machines, electric blinds, voice-activated room commands, streaming services, smart minifridges and more. 

All of these IoT devices will rely on strong wireless connectivity in order to function properly. Hotels that successfully incorporate IoT into their guests’ travel experience will gain a competitive advantage, and I don’t see the trend slowing down anytime soon. 

However, while some applications are useful, people are quickly realizing that not everything necessarily needs IoT connectivity, so hotels shouldn’t go overboard in trying to make every feature IoT enabled. Changing the colors of the lights with your voice, “smart” coffee makers that you still need to load in order for them to work and connected trash cans that you still have to throw items into are just a few examples of IoT that may have gone a little too far. So, while it’s great to embrace IoT, hotels should take the time to think about the most helpful applications to implement for their guests’ benefit. 

Nobody knows exactly what the future will bring, but based on what I’ve witnessed this year, 2020 will be a pivotal year for 5G, in-building cellular coverage and IoT. 

Bruce Lancaster is the CEO at Wilson Electronics