An announcement by Accor that it would make wifi free across all its hotels in the Asia-Pacific Region (some 500 properties) should be a wake up call for everyone in the hospitality sector.
Or, indeed, anyone providing any IT telephony services to hotels and to anyone who uses the web.
As a road warrior (I am on the road more than 180 days a year) I find that, generally, wifi service in hotels is poor, with larger hotels usually the worst performers.
The user experience is unpleasant and often doesn't work.
Furthermore, the massive growth of video and mobile data devices appears to have changed everything.
A recent Gartner study on BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) surveying CIOs indicates 38% of workforces will be using their own devices for accessing company data. I think that number may be low when the definition of "own" devices is reviewed more carefully.
Admittedly I have a high expectation that the system should just work, but generally it suffers from the following:
- Confused network set up - for example, different SSIDs. A large percentage of hotels are inconsistent in how they set up their networking and as a result roaming inside a property is challenging
- Inconsistent sign up/sign in configurations even within the same property
- Inadequate infrastructure – either too few accesses or not enough bandwidth, frequently both
- When free wifi is offered, it is very poor, with access at crippled speeds and in limited locations
- Too many blank spots, often in the rooms where its offered
Much of this can be attributed to poor planning of the network infrastructure within the property. But it’s not really their fault. Hotels tend to go for long term planning cycles of three to five years. Let's face it, major refurbishments of properties occur pretty infrequently.
Hotels have been blind-sided by the massive growth of BYOD. Indeed, video and BYOD have turned the paradigm of access on its head. Bill Gates's vision of "One Desktop" is now confined to the dustbin of history.
Consider these statistics from Evercore Partners:
- Mobile data volumes have grown 33-fold in the last five years, and are projected to grow 18-fold in the next five years.
- Ericsson forecasts that mobile subscriptions will reach 9 billion in 2017, of which 5 billion will be mobile broadband connections.
- Video traffic, which is now 50% of mobile traffic and will be 70% by 2016 and has surged due to the proliferation of time/device shifts in content viewing habits, forcing over 40% of traffic off traditional wireless networks to Wifi networks.
- Wifi is delivering almost twice as much mobile data to users as the AT&T and Verizon cellular networks combined.
Just look at these stats in the space of one year:
Evan Lewis, Accor's vice president of communications Asia-Pacific, stated:
"It is clear that we must take a position on free Internet. By the end of the year, internet will be free in all Accor hotels across the Asia-Pacific region."
That is some stake in the ground!
There are a raft of new mobile products and services being developed across the world. Many innovations are coming from some very smart startups, with literally billions of dollars being poured into the sector.
But solutions for true independent mobile "seamless" data roaming are coming, such as hardware solutions such as the FreedomPoP wifi mobile hotspot and the iPhone sleeve.
Software hotspots that are built on meshed, homogeneous and heterogeneous networking such as solutions from companies such as Connectify will address the complexity of hotspot access and bandwidth.
So how should hotels be thinking about this problem?
- Better manage your infrastructure
- Get out of those old Wifi contracts and read them
- Don't rely on the old telephone company to be your provider
- Have a very clear policy with regard to the use of mobile data
- Even if you cannot provide the bandwidth, make sure that what you can provide is clear and understandable
What can users do?
Make your requirements known. Be clear if the hotel’s service doesn't meet your needs. Log it on TripAdvisor or other review sites. Let the property know if you have problems.
Oh, and please don't use Netflix or other media streaming services on the road - its bandwidth requirements screw up surfing for the rest of us!
NB:Hotel wifi bed image via Shutterstock.