How hotels can keep up with increased Wi-Fi demand

(Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort)

This article is part one of a four-part series on connectivity.

Today’s hotel guest now travels with an average of three devices that connect to the Internet. In a recent TripBarometer survey of more than 44,000 travelers and hoteliers, 46 percent said that in-room Wi-Fi was a “must have” amenity and that they would look for alternate accommodations if it was not available. More than a quarter (26 percent) specified that they required super-fast Wi-Fi in their hotels. All of this usage and demand places an extreme pressure on a hotel’s Wi-Fi system.

“Wi-Fi is the new hot water,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “Everyone expects equal quality whether they are paying for it or not. A constant frustration among guests is keeping up with the demand. As hoteliers are getting more experienced with Wi-Fi, they are adjusting and figuring out the tricks of the trade.”

Some of the tricks include upgrading the current infrastructure to increase the capacity. “Hotels are moving from asynchronous or synchronous Internet connectivity since guests are shifting their behavior from mostly downloading to downloading/uploading,” said Agnes DeFranco, professor at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College. “Many hotels are adopting the newer 802.11ac standard hardware, which is supposed to allow users to move from the clutter of the 2.4 GHz connections.”

Another common suggestion many experts have deals with the physical equipment and where it is located. The physical location of the access points often is in hallways, which means weaker access for phones and other mobile devices, so hoteliers should re-evaluate where the access points are placed, said Trevor Dowsell, chief technology officer at Hotel Internet Services. “Wireless access points should be in the rooms now for the best service,” he said.

Using an analytics tool to help understand the areas of weak and peak connectivity and demand throughout a property can be very beneficial. “Seeing peak usage time, user bandwidth will help manage the bandwidth that you already have,” said Coleen Carey, VP of marketing for Eleven Wireless.

Hotels can allocate each individual room or user or even devices and this can minimize a single user hogging all the bandwidth, said LeAnn Hait, business development with gx2 Technology. “You can give VIP or loyalty customers more bandwidth so it gives the hotels the ability to determine the level of Internet access based on the type of guest they have,” she said.

For newer properties or recently built properties, they can be designed to anticipate the potential Wi-Fi needs. Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Sandy, Utah, was able to design its Internet systems to allow for at least three devices per room, said Bruce Goluskin, director of information services for the resort. Goluskin also agreed that analytics have helped him review the Wi-Fi utilization of the property. “Every Monday morning, I see the prior week’s report on the usage and I can compare that with our capacity,” he said. “It gives me the ability to foresee where and when we might have problems down the road.”

Hotels should be replacing their Internet equipment every five years or sooner, Goluskin said, since the technology is so rapidly changing. Hotels that don’t have a dedicated IT staff should rely on vendors more as partners so they can implement and quickly navigate systems and any challenges that arise.