Living in the global 24/7 “always-on” world!
Thursday 5th July 2012
Living in the global 24/7 “always-on” world!
Probably the greatest challenge to hotel IT management is the “onslaught” of Wi-Fi enabled devices, and the trend by guests towards using streaming video or downloading huge files over the Internet. How are the top chains catering for this?
To obtain a broad overview, Cleverdis senior consultant Masha Polshinskaya conducted a virtual roundtable with the following industry professionals:
Masha Polshinskaya: What is your strategy of Wi-Fi coverage for mobile devices?
Mike Blake: It’s all about mobility. We know our guests are traveling with multiple WiFi-enabled devices. A reliable WiFi service is therefore as critical to the guest experience as the hot water for a shower. Hotel WiFi networks are taxed harder than most enterprise networks because of the volume of traffic, diversity of devices and quantity. We are focused on building the most robust, secure, and versatile WiFi networks, because not only do our guests depend on this, but also our operations rely on it. You can have the largest Internet pipe going into your hotel, but if you cut corners in the WiFi infrastructure, it’s like having a great water heater, but plastic pipes that melt when you try to deliver that hot water for a shower. Hyatt broke ground with the concept of the mobile front desk with our new brand, Andaz. We use mobile devices for guest service request management, Point Of Sale, and a growing number of solutions in development like way finding, non-desk check-in and asset tracking.
Mark Rupert Read: Our policy is to have total coverage throughout the Hotel.
Michael Zetterlund: All Wi-Fi services for Nordic Choice Hotels are provided for by Telia or Telenor, the two largest MNO’s in Scandinavia. By nature, mobile network operators focus on functionality for mobile devices and so far this has worked very well at all our properties. We recently added login by using the Nordic Choice Club loyalty card number to the free WiFi service, and we see a need to make this process even easier on a mobile device. One source of inspiration is the Telia Homerun 1x service where customers with a Telia SIM card can enable automatic, secure and encrypted logon to the WiFi network based on the SIM card. It would be fantastic to be able to make a similar service available to our other guests – regardless of who provides their SIM card. Another source of inspiration is the Wireless Broadband Alliance´s Next Generation Hotspot Passport initiative trying to remove the need to login or register to gain WIFI connectivity
Samir Abi Frem: At present, we deploy a WIFI network capable of handling voice over WiFi communication with full coverage for front and back of house. A full WiFi network has been implemented in all Rotana Hotels to cater for guest mobile Internet needs and extend its benefits to hotel operation. Voice and messaging over Wi-Fi is a service that allows a guest to be connected to his or her own mobile world anywhere within the hotel premises, rolling this service to the hotel administration staff has enhanced their communications, decreased hotel communication expenses and increased their productivity. During our WiFi network assessment, we take into consideration 3 to 4 wireless devices per room in addition to a good number of mobile devices, also considering the hotel’s requirements, as it will use the same network for operational use.
Masha Polshinskaya: Bandwidth costs will continue to rise. How are you going to manage this? Bandwidth shaping and tiering, 4G/LTE?
Michael Zetterlund: Again, by having MNO´s providing WiFi coverage, we have a fairly comfortable situation where it is in their best interest to provide good WiFi bandwidth in order to offload their own cell network (3G/4G). We have also invited our most important MNO´s, Telia and Telenor, to meetings with the HTNG Cellular Coverage Workgroup, wanting them to support the effort HTNG is making in terms of establishing a technology and standard for provisioning multi-MNO 4G networks at hotel properties. This is really a North American initiative, but our MNO´s as well as other European operators, see the advantage of supporting this workgroup effort. This will not happen overnight, but we look forward to a future where all guests can benefit from a good and high quality mobile service at our properties regardless of which operator they have an agreement with.
Mike Blake: Bandwidth cost is actually being commoditised and we believe all of our full service hotels will be delivering 1 Gigabit connections in less than 5 years. We are focusing on partnerships with vendors who can take us there. We are looking at wireless 4G / LTE vendors as partners who will want to offload usage from their networks onto our hotel WiFi networks. The bottleneck will turn out to be the legacy 802.11g WiFi infrastructure in hotels, which at best were built with complex WAP densities to handle device capacity.
Mark Rupert Read: We will continue to increase the bandwidth available. We are finding that in real terms, bandwidth costs are decreasing per 100 MB purchased, and typically we find the cost of an upgrade from 100 MB to 1 GB will be an increase of 30% overall. However, signing for 3 years will normally result in a waiving of the upgrade fee from the supplier.
Samir Abi Frem: We have been seriously thinking about this issue, especially over the past couple of years. The fact is that guest Internet usage is increasing exponentially, and this requires increasing the Internet feed resulting in a higher cost. This is an ongoing scenario, as we can see that users’ Internet behaviour is evolving, with more video steaming, larger emails to download, more music online and so on. Accordingly, we have decided to consolidate our Internet pipeline and manage the hotels’ bandwidth requirements from a single gateway. This will entail setting up a small, dedicated Internet service provider company for Rotana Hotels, allowing us to allocate Internet bandwidth for individual hotels based on their needs. This setup will give us the power to properly manage our Internet traffic, deploy very strict policies which will prioritise the guest Internet traffic depending on the type of application used by the guest. We are reviewing our Internet billing strategy to offer tiered packages with the possibility to bundle free Internet packages with specific corporate or leisure offers. We will also be able to offer special Internet offers to our Rotana Reward members through a centralised Internet billing system that can offer roaming accounts management.
Masha Polshinskaya: There is a great deal of scepticism that DLNA for connectivity is the right answer. Also Apple intends to license its AirPlay technology to other TV manufacturers. What do you think about this? What do you expect from cooperation between TV manufacturers and SIs?
Mark Rupert Read: This has to be driven by the TV manufacturers. For example, wireless is built into the TV and can connect to guest devices by a simple on-screen menu, with the relevant security to the Hotel industry, such as the deletion of associations and history upon check out.
Mike Blake: We want the guest room to be as familiar as our guest’s home. It will always be a guest room, but the technology must be representative of the devices used every day in the home. This is why we pay attention to the Consumer Electronics industry and have taken careful note of a major theme at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Device manufactures are focusing on developing an ecosystem to simplify the process of taking content stored on or streamed to personal/mobile devices and displaying it on large consumption devices that can be more easily enjoyed and shared. DLNA supports this interplay and we support them. Consumers will grow accustomed to using technology like Apple TV, Samsung AllShare Play, and WiDi and they’ll appreciate it being available for their in-room experience. TV manufactures like LG, Sharp, and Toshiba will probably be the earlier adopters to license DLNA, while players like Samsung and Sony will push their ecosystem. We’ll pick the leader.
Michael Zetterlund: No comment about the technology – let the best man win! However – one of the top priorities in our internal “TV focus group” is to find a technology where guests can move content freely between their own devices and our LED TVs in a simple, foolproof and intuitive way. People don’t care about the technology used – it just has to work!
Masha Polshinskaya: Hoteliers are now developing full HTML5 applications for access to systems such as Epos and PMS to help revenue growth. What are the main barriers here?
Mike Blake: HTML5 is still in development and lacks a few of the main advantages of a native application. HTML5 UI’s can feel like an optimised web UI if not designed carefully. The user’s experience with the technology is paramount when it is the substitute for person-to-person interaction. The most experienced developers can achieve great results with HTML5 and deploy a solution across any device from all four major mobile platforms, desktop web browsers, and even interactive displays. Those are the partners with whom we are developing solutions to increase transactions. Still, no matter how skilled a third party HTML 5 or native platform developer is, they both suffer from barriers caused by limitations in POS and PMS vendor’s API’s.
Michael Zetterlund: We fully encourage HTML5-based applications for mobile devices and see a great need for this in order to balance the development costs in the future – a multi-platform app strategy is very hard to justify over time. We are also looking into “hybrid applications” for more advanced functionality than a pure HTML5 web application can provide. This could be used for various in-room controls, mobile keys and perhaps cashless mobile payments. We would embrace standards initiatives outlining how to design UI’s (user interfaces) on guest facing devices in a “standard” way – making the experience and navigation more or less consistent regardless if it is on one of our properties or that of one of our competitors. Now, customers spend time just learning HOW to use the systems, not focusing on the content and service itself. We would also embrace a “plug in” framework, where the whole hospitality sector could work together creating services that can more easily be adapted to our properties and just rebrand + fill them with super content instead of spending time & money on core development.
Samir Abi Frem: I believe that HTML5 will need some time to be rolled out for hotel applications, it is still until today under testing and fine tuning so having a PMS running on HTML5 developed portal should be carefully thought out and properly tested, otherwise it will result in bugs and instability for the hotel main applications.
Masha Polshinskaya: What are other issues regarding the mobile technologies and how are you addressing them?
Mike Blake: Mobile devices are capable of doing more than we ever imagined, yet some of the most common activities like sending payment, entering a secured area, building, guest room or car are still a challenge. NFC capabilities integrated in mobile phones make all this possible… theoretically. The delay is due to the ongoing land grab between the wireless carriers wanting to monetise the delivery of these secure activities. We are working with partners who can provide these secure NFC services in a carrier agnostic solution.
Mark Rupert Read: Connection to the TV... We are talking to all suppliers, TV manufacturers and wireless Internet providers to find a good working solution, it is number 1 on my current agenda.
Samir Abi Frem: Due to the large number of smartphone models and brands, operating system diversity, different browsing technologies and so on, this is creating a major challenge in developing a single application or website that is compatible with all of them. We actually have to introduce multiple products versions, continuously enhancing them to be compatible with the latest mobile technology developments, accessible by all our guests. We have developed a specific mobile website that can run on any smartphone with no exception. Next, within two months, we will be launching our first Mobile App for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. This App will be targeting our loyal and repeat guests to offer them an easy and efficient booking engine, instant information on the latest offers, with all the facilities to manage their Rotana Reward points collection and redemption as well as a list of enhanced guest services that can be all managed from a smartphone.