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Why is Hotel WiFi So Bad?

By Gregg Meade & Will South on 31st Aug 2017

Just What Makes Hotel WiFi So Bad?

Quite a provocative title, I think you’ll agree…

But my intention is not to be flippant, crass or excessively ‘red top’ with my attention-grabbing headline. This, believe it or not, is a not uncommon search term used by – no doubt – disgruntled hotel guests in a last-ditch attempt to understand the plight that has befallen them – bad hotel WiFi!

The following is an investigation into where the Hotel WiFi ‘pain points’ might be and some suggestions on how Hoteliers, Hotel Managers and anyone looking to improve their approach to guest Internet provision might want to proceed.

Pain Point #1: It all starts with the WAN

The main barrier to better WiFi for hotels - and any other business for that matter - is often the WAN (Wide Area Network).

Outdated WAN connectivity, like DSL, is usually the culprit for slow and inadequate connections and, sadly, for many hotels with access to poor WAN connections, there is only one, quite costly, solution – upgrade.

As we covered in a recent article entitled ‘Someone Has Moved My Network Bottleneck’, investing in a business-grade WiFi solution isn’t always the silver bullet to your wireless woes.

Put simply, if a network bottleneck is exacerbated by the combination of poor WiFi and a poor WAN connection, replacing the old WiFi is only half the battle. Understanding the limitations of wired networks is crucial to managing wireless expectations.

That being said, with FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) becoming more commonplace for Hotels, and Internet carriers even providing wireless Ethernet backhaul connectivity via microwave links to more remote locations, the WAN barrier may well be lifting – which leads us swiftly to the elephant in the room…

Pain Point #2: Hotel WiFi Budgets

For a long time, hotels were able to provide WiFi to their guests without too much noise about slow connections, ease-of-access, poor security or anything else. WiFi could be presented as something of a luxury and, for the most-part, users wanting to check emails or train times could do so without raising their blood pressure.

The reality though, is far removed from this antiquated ideal and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I shall administer the shot thusly:

Hotel guests expect and demand more – in fact, they want nothing short of the connectivity they enjoy at home, which is likely to be fibre broadband providing 80Mb of download.   

In other words, hotels require bespoke business-grade WiFi solutions to cope with an increase in traffic, devices, bandwidth usage and, not least, guest expectations. The barrier for many hotels where these kinds of solutions are concerned is the cost – business-grade solutions are not off-the-shelf and, as such, come at a premium! *insert cliche about comparing apples with oranges - you know what I'm driving at here.

The sticking point for hoteliers is that demand and expectation for wireless connections is only going one way - UP.

This is exemplified by the recent news that the U.N. has declared access to the Internet to be a basic human right and boils down to one uncomfortable, yet unavoidable truth: anyone running a hotel with underperforming WiFi will inevitably fall short of ever-increasing customer demands. (We can help!)

Pain Point #3.0: Physical barriers to good Hotel WiFi

We design and build professional wireless networks within a diverse range of environments. Some of which are easier to deploy and spec than others. For instance, a modern, open-plan, office is not going to reveal as many obstacles and obstructions to RF (Radio Frequency) as a fully-racked and stocked 200,000 sq ft distribution centre.

Hotels come with their own set of challenges where WiFi is concerned and do not lend themselves to ‘easy’ coverage (like our nice modern office space mentioned above). If not considered, these structural nuances can lead to a less-than-satisfactory guest experience even where the very best hardware has been deployed.

Pain Point #3.1: Prior Planning is ESSENTIAL

At Ensign, we are complete sticklers for WiFi planning (WiFi Planning Prevents Poor Performance). Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting part of the process but it really is the key to success, especially within environments and buildings which are not necessarily ‘WiFi friendly’.

The archetypal hotel layout will be something we are all familiar with – a maze of corridors, each with rooms situated on either side. Typically, wireless access points are mounted on the ceilings of these corridors with a view to servicing the adjacent rooms.

Of course, there is no problem with this, as long as the access point placement has been made subsequent to planning and, preferably, a WiFi survey.

Understanding the limitations of signal strength, as well as the expected level of usage, will give a good indication as to where the optimum position of the access point should be.

Guests complaining of bad hotel WiFi are most likely situated at the edge of a ‘cell’, meaning their signal is not as strong as those closer to the access point, or they are unfortunate enough to have been placed in an area of high RF interference. The ideal situation for hotels is to achieve uniform coverage across their premises, giving their guests a consistent wireless experience.

Pain Point #4: Put the cookie cutter DOWN

In the words of Aldo Gucci, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” Now of course, we aren’t talking about tailored suits here, but the principle is the same.

When building guest WiFi solutions which deliver a winning user experience, cookie-cutter, off-of-the-shelf (or should that be ‘off-the-rail’?) wireless simply won’t make the grade and a bespoke approach should always be preferred.

Don’t panic! That isn’t to say you, the hotel owner, have no option but to break the bank. It just means that considering the characteristics of your building, your expected levels of traffic and expected levels of network usage will all inform a far better end result - just because the hotel next door has 15 access points and a great WiFi rating on TripAdvisor, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a copy-and-paste solution will deliver the same results.   

Managing expectation makes GOOD hotel WiFi

As this, and some of our previous articles, exemplify (Promoting Bad Hotel WiFi Must Stop!) it is difficult to write about Hotel WiFi without sounding overly negative - if any clarification was needed, we aren't here to denigrate or disparage, we are here to solve your WiFi and network issues!

Although there are indeed many challenges facing the hospitality industry with regards to the connectivity demands of the modern guest, there are also a great many more opportunities to leverage wireless access for business growth and improvement.

The trick in achieving them (and finding that elusive silver bullet) is making the parameters of your project clear from the outset – ask yourself the question: what do I want my hotel WiFi to do?

  • Stop Complaints
  • Make my guests happy
  • Give my guests a ‘home’ WiFi experience
  • Provide the highest levels of performance
  • Provide adequate service
  • Allow all guests to stream media
  • Enable simple access to the Internet
  • Facilitate Social Media login
  • Collect user data via self-registration

The list could go on, but you get the point – asking these and other questions before investing in a wireless network is the best way to ensure your hotel WiFi meets everyone’s expectations and, more importantly, will provide the best indication how much budget will be required. 

Removing the Cap-Ex

Understanding the pain points of the industry sectors in which we operate is crucial to aligning our solutions and services with the specific restraints and requirements they might have.

We firmly believe that hotel networks should be viewed as an asset not a cost, and should be accessible to all manner of establishments irrespective of size, location or budget.

If you are seeking to improve your approach to guest WiFi delivery but have concerns over the upfront costs, talk to us about our hospitality WiFi-as-a-Service solution!

What Next?

For advice on designing or upgrading your WiFi network and associated systems, to the deployment of security solutions like Next Generation Firewalls and Endpoint Network Security, please contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.

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