March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 01.05

Sweet Suites

Three centuries ago, the scholar Samuel Johnson opined that man had created nothing else “by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
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By Michelle Maisto




Three centuries ago, the scholar Samuel Johnson opined that man had created nothing else “by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” While hospitality providers would surely thrill to such a reception, business travelers are rarely so delighted by their accomodations, though we expect more amenities than has ever been the case before. Hoteliers who originally sought to offer an experience that mimicks the comforts of home (shower caps, cable television) today face new challenges, as the everyday comforts (400 thread-count sheets, luxury bath products) of the business traveler’s home steadily increase.

Added to that is the traveler’s quiet hope that our hotel room outclasses our home.

The Salish Lodge & Spa, an award-winning retreat perched on a cliffside overlooking Washington State’s most visited attraction, the Snoqualmie Falls, warns guests to be careful as they enter, as “they may never want to leave.” Among the rooms’ amenities are oversized whirlpool tubs for two, wood-burning fireplaces, goose-down comforters and 16 varieties of pillows to choose from. Recently added to that list, thanks to an installation by the Wi-Fi Guys, is facility-wide, high-speed wireless Internet access—a convenience that, for most travelers, no number of pillow options can compensate for.

Get It Right the First Time

The Wi-Fi Guys—a partnership of Tom Sullivan, Jay Lewis and Chris Swanson—was founded in 2002 to provide managed hotspot solutions for hotel properties, and it’s handled projects from piece-of-cake, box-shaped motels to the high-as-they-come standards of the Salish.

Is there a single most important consideration when it comes to deploying wireless in a hotel environment? “Yeah,” laughs Swanson, “do it right!” The first step toward getting it right is to signal test everything. “Wireless is so unique, compared to wired connections, in that it requires you to really know the building,” explains Swanson. You can’t just guess—it’s really critical that you actually take signals as you test. You may have one building and you think you’re going to duplicate it in another building, and that’s just not the case.”

Lewis agrees. “If you’re doing a 100-room, roadside property that’s one or two or three stories, and it’s a straight line—think of all the budget hotels out there, from Red Roof Inn to Budget Inn to Hampton Inn—those are much simpler to do,” he says. “It’s not as critical to do a site survey. But for hotels like the Salish, absolutely—radio frequency testing has to be done. Otherwise you’re going to sell something, and you’re going to install it, and you’re going to have pockets that don’t have coverage, and you’re going to have pockets that have too much coverage, where you get blocked out. So the site survey is probably critical for the larger hotels and larger buildings.”

Even with simpler properties, however, there’s a lot that goes into deploying a wireless network, the two agree. “It comes down to a lot of planning and coordination,” says Swanson. “You need to know certain things are in place, such as where the telephone closet is, if it has a drop ceiling, etc.”

“Yes, it’s wireless,” Lewis interjects, “but you still have to run some wires. And with some of these devices, the cable can only be so long in order for the device to work fully, so you want to make sure that you’re designing it that way.” You don’t want to run 300 feet of cable and then discover that the product only works within a maximum distance of 250 feet, he stresses. “You really have to know the product you’re installing and you have to know how to install it correctly.”

Another thing to keep in mind, offers Swanson, is “there’s no single company that produces or manufactures a product that’s going to fit every single need, so it’s important to have an understanding and a knowledge of multiple products that you can use in different deployments.”

Tools for the Job

SuiteSpeed, another Internet service provider focused on the hotel industry, favors Buffalo Technology’s 802.11b AirStation Pro Intelligent Access Point (WLM-L11G) in many of its projects. Buffalo products are particularly suited for large deployment areas such as hotels, says Morikazu Sano, VP of product marketing and public relations for Buffalo, due to its unique antenna support capability.

“Some other competitors’ products don’t [allow you to] extend the signal any farther, so you’re basically stuck with these two products. However, Buffalo products have antenna support, so you can attach our outdoor or indoor antennas, directional or in-directional antennas, as well as a WDS—wireless distribution system—which is a repeater. Our access points can repeat the signal for up to six units.” With an average AP running $99, having one do the work of six, says Sano, offers significant savings, and customers can see ROI very quickly.

Buffalo also offers high-standard security protocols and a new USB 2.0 keychain adapter, which was specifically designed for hotels, “where you have multiple users coming in, without an adapter, and you have to offer support for all versions of Windows,” explains Sano. “The receptionist gives you the Buffalo 2.0 keychain adapter, you plug it into your laptop and automatically Windows recognizes the device and installs the driver for that particular OS for you. … It’s true plug-and-play.”

Happy Customer, Happy Hotel

While the recent deployment of wireless throughout the hospitality industry has been in answer to a resounding demand, many hotels are enjoying the purely functional benefits of wireless, as well as its value as a competitive leveraging tool. “If you have someone paying $200 or $250 a night for room, then what’s $10 or $12 for Internet service?” asks Wi-Fi Guys’ Lewis. However, he adds, “If you give it away for free and it doesn’t work well [that day], it doesn’t matter so much. But if you’re charging $10 a day and it doesn’t work, then you’re going to have an unhappy guest, and you really don’t want an unhappy guest over [a matter of] $10.”

In fact, more hotels are getting away from charging, strictly from a competitive standpoint, says Lewis. “You can find a Marriot on one side of the street and a Hampton Inn on the other, and the Hampton Inn is $50 cheaper and they’re giving away free Internet, while the Marriott is charging $12.95 for it. At some point someone says to himself, ‘The economy being what it is, I’m just going to stay across the street.’”

In early 2003 the Omni Hotel chain began a wireless deployment throughout its hotels, which it completed in the summer of 2004. And while many hotels offer free wireless in lobbies and public areas, the Omni’s deployment.
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