Hotel bandwidth issues grow with guest demand
09 SEPTEMBER 2015 6:08 AM
The prevalence of online streaming services such as Netflix is driving demand for higher Internet speeds in hotels.
GLOBAL REPORT—When consumers talk about with hotel Wi-Fi, the experiences they share are rarely positive ones.
Hoteliers face many obstacles when attempting to offer guests blazing Internet speeds, not the least of which is the fact that guests tend to all want to use it at the same time, putting pressure on the bandwidth coming into the property along with the wireless networks that support laptops, tablets and smartphones.
With those challenges in mind, the brain trust behind the soon-to-be opened South Congress Hotel in Austin, Texas, realized the only thing to do would be to completely blow up the standard way of dealing with Internet.
Gone is the layer upon layer of devices to direct and regulate Internet traffic in favor of each room having its own dedicated Wi-Fi access point and network. The 83-room boutique hotel was built with technology in mind and is able to offer an individual room 500 megabits per second, a speed that matches the entire bandwidth available to some hotels.
Jesse Herman, managing partner of the hotel, said the thinking behind their technology plans, which go far above and beyond industry standards, goes back to the basics of hospitality.
“I’m 36, and I look at this as, ‘What would I want in a hotel?’” Herman said. “I travel quite a bit, and I just need good coffee and fast Internet to not disrupt my routine.”
Herman said the high speeds and dedicated networks make it easier for the hotel to offer in-room content streaming, with Apple TV and Google Chromecast plugged into each room’s TV. The hotel even offers its own specific free movie streaming service through a partnership with the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
The streaming services made available through devices such as Apple TV, including Netflix and Hulu, are some of the biggest drivers of bandwidth issues at hotels. But Herman said hoteliers shouldn’t shy away from them.
“People build their own content libraries and collections of sources that provide the content they want,” he said. “That’s already the way it is. So why don’t you have the ability to do that in hotels, especially for millennials?”
How much is enough?
Patrick Dunphy, manager of workgroups and IT at Hotel Technology Next Generation, said the organization regularly works with developers to determine how much bandwidth to offer in members’ hotels. There’s no hard and fast rules for how much is right for a given hotel, he said.
The two constants:
- Demand is always growing; and
- guests are going to be your biggest consumers of bandwidth.
“With the rise of online streaming, things like Netflix are only going to start consuming more bandwidth, especially as they start to over more 4K TV offerings,” Dunphy said.
HTNG has crafted a calculator that gives guidance on how much broadband bandwidth a hotel might need by inputting several variables, but Dunphy said that tool is available only to HTNG members.
Henrik Grewin, IT infrastructure architect for Scandic Hotels, said his company budgets out bandwidth to guests by device, venturing to provide each guest with 5 megabits per second per device.
While speaking at the Southern Lodging Summit in Memphis, Tennessee, Mark Haley, managing partner of the Prism Partnership, said one of the simplest indicators of how much bandwidth a hotel needs is how much is regularly in use.
“There are rules of thumb, but every hotel tends to vary,” Haley said. “A commercial Wi-Fi system will come with a monitoring tool that shows you how much of the available bandwidth is being consumed at any given time. And if you’re seeing it bump above the 75% threshold fairly often, you’ve got a problem. You need to add more bandwidth.”
The challenges to offering blazing Internet
Dunphy said one of the frustrating things about bandwidth issues at hotels is that they’re often out of the hoteliers’ control. Most users like to go online at the same times in the evening, he said, creating a natural bottleneck only made worse by a handful of heavy users, who are often the first to complain about speed issues.
Dunphy said that puts hoteliers in the uncomfortable position of playing Internet traffic cop.
“Hotels are unfortunately put in a bad situation with that,” he said. “You really can’t shut down the network because someone wants to stream (television shows) “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards.” Ultimately hotels need to focus on device and room limits to make sure one person isn’t using all the bandwidth. They need to make sure that amenity is available for everyone. That guest doesn’t necessary care about others, but the hotel has to.”
Dunphy said hoteliers also have to cope with internal factors that can slow internet speeds even if the hotel has an abundance of available bandwidth. This can include things like having multiple devices to route traffic and heavy traffic over a given frequency that could slow an individual device’s connection to an access point, which he said is leading some hoteliers to consider decided Wi-Fi access points and networks by room, much like the South Congress Hotel.
“Guests are only seeing the Wi-Fi network, but there’s six or seven devices in between” their device and the Internet, he said, referring to things like access points, routers, in-hotel switches and bandwidth shaping. “Bandwidth in the hotel doesn’t always reflect what the guest is seeing.”
Build to grow
Dunphy said one of the best things a developer can do when it comes to technology is to install fiber optic cabling throughout the hotel during the initial build. It can offer connection speeds hundreds of times faster than traditional cabling, because it allows for bandwidth growth without much internal work.
“Going with either active or passive fiber networks really helps hotels avoid recabling as bandwidth needs change,” Dunphy said. “Its theoretical limit in bandwidth hasn’t even been achieved yet. There was a time it was limited to a few gigabits, but now they’re pushing terabits per second through those same fiber optic wires.”
Grewin said that’s a step Scandic Hotels already has taken.
“All of our hotels can ramp up when (they need to) as we are using fiber connections,” he said.
Herman said the South Congress Hotel was built with fiber in mind, particularly because Austin is one of the first cities to get Google Fiber Internet. He said the hotel is still waiting for Google Fiber to be offered in its direct area, but once that service is available, it could give a significant boost to the hotel’s already robust bandwidth pipeline.
“We designed in the ability to switch from the service provider we have now to Google Fiber to open us up to potential increases in bandwidth,” Herman said. “We built this hotel from scratch, so we thought ‘Why can’t we do it this way because that’s what we want?’ It’s really just a matter of time before more people do the same thing because millennials expect blazing fast Internet.”