The problem with Hotel Wi-Fi

Free Hotel Wi-Fi image

Having recently been travelling, I've had some time to sample the delights of hotel Wi-Fi. It can be a bit of an inconvenience when you're travelling and you can't access your email - when you need to work and have some urgent emails or remote work to do it can be a real problem.

My experience has been that it's pretty patchy and drops out a lot. And often you're paying a pretty high premium to use the hotel Wi-Fi, adding to the irritation. If you're paying a premium for the service, surely they should invest in the best equipment and configuration.

Reasons Hotel Wi-Fi is Poor

I think from what I've observed, there are a number of reasons:

  • Expense: This has to be high up the list on the reason for not deploying more APs
  • Difficulty with cabling: Also high up the list – there’s cabling to the TV point typically, but not in the hallways and other places
  • Enough APs: One of the main reasons for the patchy coverage and devices dropping out – there’s just not enough APs!
  • Poor design: Using proper RF predictive surveys and onsite surveys ensures that the coverage is even and predictable

To overcome the coverage issues, one hotel I stayed at had installed a Linksys AP in each room. Its one strategy to ensure coverage, but has the drawbacks of:

  • Not being lightweight – each AP is autonomous, so you can end up with overlapping signals from APs (access points) the network not operating as a whole
  • Using more APs than you would for a properly designed lightweight network (unless the hotel is particularly heavy construction you don’t need an AP in each room)

There's no easy way around providing good Wi-Fi coverage - you just have to have enough APs. The exact number of course is down to the design - many hotels may well have bought from the cheapest vendor, using the minimum number of APs - it's a short sighted approach though, as the coverage is poor and the customers are frustrated by the experience.

However - if done properly, you can use the same network for multiple services - if the hotel has paid for the deployment of all those APs, get some added value from them. Staff can use Wi-Fi phones for both communication and paging. How about some location tracking to know where the cleaning or security staff are located, or to be able to track an asset.

Some hotels are offering a 'premium' service, whereby not only can you access the internet, you can have some sort of guaranteed service for some quality Netflix viewing.

There's a lot that can be value added, once the network is working correctly - however the base lesson is to use enough APs. Hotels have seen that customers vote with their feet, choosing a hotel with Wi-Fi above those without - the next upgrade hotels can offer is consistent Wi-Fi that works properly, with a good level of service for streaming.

 

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