Why good hotels have bad WiFi, and how to avoid themNews / TechnologyBy Sean O'Neil | July 25, 2014Share This article was originally published on Few people depend on strong Wi-Fi networks as much as developers and engineers.So it is no surprise that many of these technology professionals have strong opinions about hotels that fail to deliver on their promises of high-speed internet.A recent comment thread on the Hacker News forum reveals many of the reasons why hotel Wi-Fi often sucks -- and how tech pros avoid hotels with weak signals.Here are the highlights from the thread:1. Use Hotel Wifi Test to find hotels with good Wi-Fi.This site announced this week that it now uses machine learning and crowd-sourced speed tests to identify the best and worst hotels for Wi-Fi, directing people to Hotels.com to complete their bookings.Other speed test sites include SpeedSpot and Rotten WiFi.Travelers can also get Wi-Fi information from the news blog HotelChatter's annual hotel Wi-Fi report.Online booking tool Hipmunk is reportedly working on adding Wi-Fi information to its search results.2. Follow this rule of thumb: There is a lower chance of independent hotels offering free Wi-Fi, but the speed is typically above average.Exhibit A: In the tests its users have reported, HotelWiFiTest finds that internet connections at Marriott properties are not significantly faster than those at non-chain hotels that do not charge for wifi and that charge less for rooms on average, too.3. A corollary to the above rule: "The more expensive the hotel chain, the worse the Wi-Fi."There may be two reasons why paying more doesn't get you more.First, many business travelers belong to loyalty programs, where the Wi-Fi charge is waived, so the hotels most valuable customers have less reason to complain.Second, as one Hacker News commenter put it: "These high-end hotels were particularly early in offering their guests internet access but then bought into a draconian external service provider with awful service, high fees, very long contract duration, and slow speed."Share this quote 4. So far, hotel chains have failed to break their contracts with third-party providers who are offering outdated, weak Wi-Fi serviceOne Hacker News user makes this educated guess about why: "Exclusivity clause in the contract possibly. They could buy out the rest of the contract, but that could be quite expensive (and the other party is under no obligation to agree unless there is already an option defined in said contract). Even if the Wi-Fi exclusivity is not explicitly stated there might be a clause about the hotel ensuring there is minimal interference with the service and setting up another set of APs on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands could be claimed to breach that clause if the provider wanted to get litigious. For chain hotels it is even harder as the decision of who to use to provide the service could be out of their hands."Share this quote Perhaps. Though that seems too clever of an explanation by half.If a major hotel chain doesn't have a corporate lawyer whose competent enough to find a way out of these contracts, then they're probably hiring the wrong lawyers.A more likely explanation is laziness and bureaucratic inertia in chains, whereas independent hotels have less management to go through and more of a front-line, financial incentive to keep repeat customers booking directly.5. In good news, some high-end hotels are starting wake-up to the profit opportunity of high-speed Internet.Advanced Wi-Fi networks offer something to hotels that older networks didn't: an ability to gain business intelligence on how its guests are using its facilities.A case in point: Hyatt Santa Clara has been singled out as an "innovation property" by the chain, which has worked with Cisco to make the Wi-Fi free and fast.As first reported by Hotel News Now earlier this month, the technology lets users drill down to activity levels in each space.For instance, it can find out if adding free Wi-Fi to the bar area actually causes guests to linger there more and spend more on drinks.6. In the meantime, remember that paying a fee for Wi-Fi doesn't guarantee fast Wi-Fi -- because of expense accounts.The fee has nothing to do with the signal, and all to do with expense reports, claim several people, including this Hacker News user: If you're an employee travelling on business, your company might have a per-night budget for hotel accommodation. If your budget is $150, then you can't stay in a $160 hotel. You *can* probably stay in a $150 hotel which charges $15/night for internet access. You'll expense the hotel (within the budget) and expense the internet access fee (reasonable expense whilst travelling). The hotel gets an additional customer. The employee gets to stay at a slightly more expensive place than the official budget allows.Share this quote 7. What about the issue of too much demand?One issue barely addressed by Hacker News commenters is that demand for Wi-Fi may be expanding faster than supply.The rapid adoption of tablets and streaming services means that many customers are using more than one device to access the internet at one time -- and often to hog much more bandwidth.How to cope, while waiting for hotels to catch up? One trick is to rely on old-fashioned wires. Ethernet connections rarely get complaints when it comes to delivering steady broadband connections.So pack that network cable, just in case.MORE: The full comment thread is at Hacker News. One can imagine many of these 180-plus comments being written by a group of tech nerds huddled in a hotel lobby, where they're staying close to the router to get the strongest Wi-Fi signals.