Five Keys to a Great Hotel WiFi Network
Providing a strong, fast and secure guest wireless network can seem like a daunting challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Danny Bakker, Vice President of Liveport, offers his advice on providing a hassle-free hotel wifi system.
1. Get coverage…everywhere
Guests expect to connect to the Internet in their rooms, regardless of if they’re right next to the lobby or at the end of the hallway. The surge of mobile devices, such as iPhones and iPads, with weaker wireless antennas has made this more difficult for hotels in recent years, and complaints about poor signal abound as a result.
Bakker says the old approach of one or two powerful wi-fi antennas is obsolete.
“It doesn’t matter how powerful your system is, the network will only be as strong as the weakest device—those tablets and phones,” says Bakker. “That means you need a system that gets close to guests using low-power access points, and more of them.”
Bakker is a big advocate of ‘mesh’ networks, finding them the perfect solution for hotels. The network is a mix of access points that are fed with traditional cable, and those that require power only. Both types work together to provide a seamless wireless network throughout the entire hotel.
2. Make it fast
It doesn’t matter how good the network is within the hotel if you don’t have enough bandwidth—guests may call it ‘speed’—coming to the property in the first place.
Bandwidth is essentially the amount of data that can pass over the network at any given time. Some tasks, such as basic web browsing and email, require little bandwidth. But online streaming video services, video chat clients, and peer-to-peer file sharing, demand a lot.
“A year or two ago, a typical guest was happy to check some emails, the weather and the news,” says Bakker. “But more and more, guests expect to watch their favourite TV shows and movies over the Internet, and do video chats with their friends and relatives. Bandwidth demand has gone up exponentially.”
There isn’t a magic number as to how much bandwidth is required for each hotel, as it varies greatly based on size, clientele, guest expectations and what hoteliers are willing to provide.
3. Manage access
If your network is fast and covers the entire property, you’re heading for a disaster if you don’t have any network management in place, says Bakker.
On a basic level, each network should put a cap on individual users, so no single network abuser can use up all the available bandwidth.
“We basically make people share the network,” says Bakker. “We’ll even block them completely if they are causing issues for other guests. They can get back online by calling us, and we’ll give a gentle reminder to turn off their file sharing program.”
Unless your hotel is isolated in the middle of nowhere, Bakker says a password is a good idea to prevent unauthorized users from connecting.
For more advanced networks, your provider should be able to set up voucher systems that let you charge guests for certain time periods, bandwidth levels, and number of devices. A modern network management tool such as the Liveport Cloud Network Manager can take care of all these systems, as well as alert you whenever there is a network problem.
Bakker sees tiered access—giving a basic, slow level of Internet for free, with the option to purchase more bandwidth for an additional fee—as a trend in the industry.
4. Support your guests, day and night
Guests use the Internet at all hours of the day, so make sure help is available for them when they need it. Support during typical business hours-only, or two-hour call return times simply won’t work. In fact, most hotel franchises require toll-free, 24/7 guest technical support, so make sure your wireless vendor also offers this.
“If a network is running as it should, guests calling typically just need a helping hand changing their system,” says Bakker. “But having a knowledgeable person—not simply a front-desk staff person—who can help them get online goes so far in keeping that guest satisfied and coming back.”
Bakker adds that in more than 90 per cent of calls his company receives, they are able to get guests connected and on their way.
5. Keep costs under control
This tip is a good one for any area of your property, but it’s especially important any time you are dealing with technology.
Bakker says he sees it all the time: hotels who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on access points, servers and IT contractors, only to have a system that barely works.
“A strong, fast hotel wireless system doesn’t have to cost a lot,” he says. “But you do need to spend your money wisely and with a company that’s in it for the long haul.”