March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 11.03

Laptops on the Beach

A famous Santa Monica hotel installs Wi-Fi network for guests, who can now surf the net while surfing the wavesówell, almost.
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By Eric M. Zeman




We’ve all seen the commercials of contented looking people using their laptops to connect to the Internet whilst lounging on the beach with a frozen drink in their hands, sunshine on their face and waves crashing at their feet. A few years ago this was an amusing spectacle, though one that made us just a tad envious. Let’s face it, if we have to check our e-mail, what better place to check it from than poolside? Now, however, that spectacle is a reality for customers of a particular California hotel.

Situated on the sands of Santa Monica, Calif., Shutters On The Beach is one of the world’s premiere luxury hotels and the first to offer a unique combination of luxury, a beachfront location and high-speed wireless Internet access. With 58 antennae strategically located throughout the property, visitors can log on and surf the Internet from anywhere in the hotel—guest rooms, the lobby, the restaurants, the pool area and even 500 feet out on the beach.

Tracks in the Sand

According to Kurk Knudsen, controller for Shutters, the hotel first toyed with wireless back in 2000, when the technology was brand new. “We did a beta deployment with a wireless system, but it wasn’t proven. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t work,” says Knudsen. Recently, however, Shutters determined that the technology had changed and matured enough to give it a second chance. “More companies are advertising and pushing the technology,” says Knudson. Except for the pre-existing infrastructure from the initial deployment, Shutters started from scratch.

Once they decided to go forward, Shutters worked with Laguna Beach, Calif.-based Gist Wireless & Data Consulting, who recommended Nomadix. They deployed Nomadix’s Universal Subscriber Gateway II running the Nomadix Service Engine (NSE) Core software to enable the Shutters Hotel to offer far-reaching seamless Wi-Fi access to hotel guests. The property also utilizes the Hospitality Module of the NSE to facilitate in-room billing. The Wi-Fi equipment used at Shutters was supplied by Proxim, which is used to cover such hard-to-reach areas as the pool and 500 feet of surrounding beach. Shutters covered a portion of their beach property by installing wireless radios in the lifeguard stands, where there are shelters to protect them. The Wi-Fi access points are managed by AirWave’s Wireless Management Platform solution, which also manages network performance and enforces security policies.

The entire set up took about a month and a half. Knudson notes, “Working with Nomadix was very easy.” After everything was ready to go, Knudson says, “Managing and testing the system was very simple. We basically walked around the resort with a wirelessly enabled laptop to check signal strength in all the rooms and public areas of the hotel.”

Proof in the Pudding

After Shutters had the system up and running, they let guests sample the goods. “We’ve had a lot of customers give it a try. There was no charge at first, we let them test drive it and
see how it works,” remarks Knudson. “People thought it was great to have the freedom to go anywhere on the property, even the beach.” Once it caught on, Shutters implemented an extra charge to use the wireless system. Unlimited service is available per day for a rate of $12, and the charge is only incurred if guests
actually use the system.

According to Armella Stepan, general manager of Shutters, “The majority of our guests are on the cutting edge of technology and expect to find a state-of-the-art business center at the hotel. When they discover Shutters is a Wi-Fi hotel, with connections tailored to their needs, they are bowled over. Guests can be found on the pool deck, the lobby and even out by the palm tree on the beach, surfing the Internet.”

Knudson admits the response has been very positive. Even if customers have older equipment and cannot connect wirelessly, they are still able to dial in through the phone jacks in their hotel rooms, or use the Ethernet bridge at the front desk. Hard data lines are not available in the rooms. Though, Knudson says, “Most people have up-to-date systems.”

During their initial research, Shutters planned for most of their users to connect via Windows-driven laptops. Interestingly, so far about 70 percent of their users are connecting via Macintosh machines, versus only 30 percent through Windows. All of the system testing was performed on a Mac.

Checking Out

The system was relatively cheap to deploy, and with the number of people accessing and using the system, Shutters is confident the system will pay for itself over four to five years. Shutters is proud to have the Wi-Fi system available to their guests, and believes it will help them maintain a cutting-edge image for luxury travelers. After all, connecting to the Internet from the warm comfort of a beach is what every traveler dreams of doing. •
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