Airport & Hotel WiFi Test

5th Sep 2014

I’ve definitely got that Friday feeling; not only is it the weekend but on Sunday I shall be jetting-off to the paradisiacal island of Mauritius. I know, I know – lucky me! But, aside from all the sun, sea and snorkelling, I have been thinking that my trip could make for a useful experiment…

Here at Ensign, we are always debating the latest trends in Wi-Fi and wireless technology; how they continue to make our lives easier and how businesses can utilise them to foster improved employee and customer relationships.

Thinking about the benefits of WiFi in this way is no more prevalent than within the retail and hospitality industries, where customer/consumer/guest WiFi has become something of a necessity in recent times.

Our work in both of these highly demanding and ever-evolving sectors has empirically shown this to be true and as we all become increasingly attached to mobile connectivity there are certainly still a great many advancements to be made.

Consumer & Guest WiFi test opportunities

So how many times on a typical foreign holiday might we expect to encounter some form of either free or paid WiFi?

Leaving aside the countless bars and restaurants one might (I will) enthusiastically frequent during a boozy, gourmandizing trip abroad, there are two scenarios - within the parameters of my trip at least - where free WiFi provision might be particularly desirable.

Airport WiFi

Airports are fun, right? Call me mad, but I love them! I still get that child-like feeling of dizzy excitement every time I am faced with the prospect of getting on an aeroplane, and that is manifested in the entire airport experience!…with the exception of long check-in queues, last minute gate changes and couples in matching shell-suites (hand-on-heart, I have witnessed this) of course.

These days, airports are much more than places to simply catch a flight. I am departing from Gatwick Airport, which offers enough shops, bars and restaurants to rival many of the country’s plentiful shopping malls.

For frequent flyers and business travellers, time spent loitering around in airport shops and lounges could become understandably tiresome. Free or paid Wi-Fi services can - and do - provide a welcomed distraction whilst helping to make good-use of what might otherwise be regarded as ‘dead time’.

The shops, too, can make Wi-Fi provision work for them; firing out offers and incentives to what is effectively a captive, and often very bored, audience.

According to the Gatwick Airport website, “[guests] can get 45 minutes free Wi-Fi at the airport - Simply open your browser and connect to Gatwick FREE Wi-Fi.”, after this, the Wi-Fi is managed by Boingo Wi-Fi and is priced according to your usage requirements.

Barring any major delays in getting from Bournemouth to Gatwick – please, God, no! – I’m sure I will have ample time to test its performance. Look out for my verdict in part two.

Hotel WiFi

A quick browse of my hotel’s amenities and it’s all looking quite promising; ‘Free High Speed Internet’ is clearly stated - not only is it free, although I’d be a bit perturbed if it wasn’t, but they are not afraid to make bold performance claims to boot; let’s see how its copes when I download all five seasons of Breaking Bad!

A KDS survey, the most recent in a long line of similar studies, found that whether planning a holiday, business trip or short hotel stay, the availability of WiFi was decisive in the selection process. However, the major stumbling block for hotels is not in the mere provision of wireless connectivity to guests but ultimately in its quality and performance – poor performing WiFi has got to be more damaging than offering no WiFi at all, right?

Now, I am not the kind of person who is lost without a WiFi connection, especially when in holiday mode – iPhones and jet-skis don’t make a great combination after all! However, in the pursuit of research I shall do my best to put the hotel WiFi through its paces!

*So, here we go, into the 'lab'...

Gatwick Airport WiFi

First up was the 45 minutes of complimentary guest WiFi at London’s Gatwick Airport. Before leaving home I checked out their website, which made the following claim: “[guests] can get 45 minutes free Wi-Fi at the airport – simply open your browser and connect to Gatwick FREE Wi-Fi.”

Easy, right? Well it started promisingly enough...

I opened my browser and was directed to the Boingo Hotspot login page where I dutifully followed the instructions. I was asked to create a username and password - which I managed without too much distress - and was then prompted to login.
Cue a lot of buffering...for a whole 30 minutes (the duration of my snack at Pret A Manger), at the end of which I gave up.
It would appear my attention span is better than I thought. It’s safe to say that at this point my experience was not a good one.

But wait, there’s more

After a little retail therapy I stopped at Starbucks for a well-earned rest (CAKE) and…SUCCESS!  

Once I was up-and-running the WiFi performance was pretty good. General web-browsing was achieved without any incident, although video playback was a tad painful – not really a surprise in such a high density environment.

Location, location, location

The best advice I can give you - in life and in WiFi - is to choose your location wisely. It is worth noting that when I couldn’t log-on I was at the far end of the terminal, whereas later on I was fairly central. This could suggest that I was initially sat on the very edge of the wireless cell and then had - unknowingly - moved to an area with greater coverage.

So, it’s fair to say my thoughts on the WiFi at Gatwick were somewhat mixed. I’m certainly glad I didn’t pay for it.

Onwards to Mauritius…

Hotel WiFi

My hotel stated that “Free High Speed Internet” was available in the lobby in addition to a paid ‘Premium’ service, which extended around the pool, bars, restaurants and all of the rooms.

Keen to cut the well-formed ties with my mobile wherever possible, I didn’t opt for the paid WiFi so I can’t comment on its performance. I do however expect it would have been better than the complimentary lobby WiFi network. 

That is not to say that the free WiFi service was in any way bad, just that it had one major – and all too common – downfall; capacity, or lack thereof.

Hotels are well within their rights to advertise free WiFi, however any performance claims should often come with a proviso. The service was indeed free and certainly was not slow – here’s the kicker - assuming that you were one of only a few people making use of it at any one time.

More often though, hotel guests will congregate to make use of the free network at certain times of the day, causing a flood of requests and the WiFi network to wilt under the combined weight of boastful status updates and picture uploads of sandy vistas.

Cue a lot of buffering action...again (and not a lot of NFL action)... 

Now I’m not complaining; far from it. The free WiFi was adequate enough for most general requirements - except at peak times - and that was all I needed. Anyone wanting to Facetime, Skype or watch ‘Corrie’ might well have been a bit disappointed though.

The broken promises of Hotel WiFi

I say this a lot – and am considering having tattooed across my forehead – offering poor performing WiFi is far worse than offering no WiFi at all. Amidst the exponential growth in demand for hotel and guest WiFi services, this appears to be a mantra not shared by many in the hospitality sector; cost limitations all too often trump performance requirements.

However, as consumer expectations continue to rise as a result of faster connections both at home and on the move, the writing might well be on the wall for cheap and cheerful guest WiFi.

What Next?

If you are planning to deploy an enterprise-grade wireless network or are experiencing problems with a existing setup, please feel free to contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.