Hotels are upgrading WiFi infrastructure to meet iPad, iPhone users’ needs

Good news for travelers lamenting about hotel Wi-Fi! Hotels are finally upgrading their Wi-Fi infrastructure to meet the needs of iPad, iPhone and laptop users. Last October, Andy Abramson posted an article entitled Why Hotel Wi-Fi Is Being Crushed By iPads And What To Do About It in which he detailed what hotels needed to do to improve guests’ Wi-Fi experience (in a nutshell: upgrade!). With more visitors using iPads, hotels are faced with angry guests who complain that the hotel’s Wi-Fi network is too slow or drops their connections. Face it: if you are in the hospitality business, you have to be “hospitable” and accommodate your guests’ needs, and these days they arrive with iPads.

At least one luxury hotel is doing something about it. The Mandarin Oriental in New York City has upgraded its Wi-Fi network using a Ruckus Wi-Fi wall switch switch embedded in each of the 248 rooms in its Columbus Circle property. The hotel has seen an 85 percent decrease in guest complaints after the upgrade. Mandarin Oriental, New York is one of seven Mandarin Oriental hotels that have now upgraded the network (using the Ruckus products) including Tokyo, Manila, Jakarta, Sanya, London, and Hong Kong.

Recognized as a leader in innovative technologies in the hospitality market, Mandarin Oriental, New York was one of the first hotels to deploy a converged IP network. Previously, Mandarin Oriental, New York was one of the first hotels to deploy technologies such as a distributed antenna system (DAS) to extend Wi-Fi and cellular signals, the first for IP-based voice, the first for stored and broadcast IP-video, and the first hotel to install plasma screens throughout the property (note: Andy Abramson urged hotels to invest in carrier neutral DAS systems in his article about hotel Wi-Fi and it’s great to see one of the world’s top hotels doing this). According to the team at Mandarin Oriental, New York, the move to install Ruckus Wi-Fi wall switches in every room was driven by three growing issues: capacity, coverage, and user density.

“Given the guest demographic, the expectation for more reliable, higher speed and ubiquitous Wi-Fi literally exploded when smart devices like the iPhone and the iPad hit the market,” said Oscar Gomez, director of information technology at Mandarin Oriental, New York. “The hotel’s previous implementation of Wi-Fi over our in-house distributed antenna system (DAS), was originally installed to provide better cellular coverage but as time passed and technologies changed, we found that it couldn’t scale to accommodate the soaring Wi-Fi usage rates and concurrent connections our guests needed. We ultimately decided that an upgrade wasn’t the right tool for the time,” said Gomez.

According to Mandarin Oriental, New York, another key concern was available Ethernet cabling in each room to connect a growing number of IP-based devices such as minibars, IPTV, VoIP phones, in-room environment control systems, as well as Wi-Fi-based service optimization applications used by hotel staff.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group views Wi-Fi as a strategic component to improving overall operations and guest satisfaction across the brand’s hotels.  Housekeepers with their iPod Touch on the Wi-Fi network for service optimization applications such as tracking tasks and keeping guest disruptions to a minimum. And Mandarin Oriental front-of-house staff use Mtech’s HotSOS application over the Wi-Fi network to address guest-related service issues.

“As a group, we really liked the idea of having a 1:1 relationship between the access point and the guest which gives us the ability to provide more wired connections in each room without disruptive cabling,” said VP of Information Technology of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group David Heckaman.  “We have seen it pay off for our hotels.”

Since installing the Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi system, Mandarin Oriental, New York has seen user capacity more than triple and wireless traffic eclipse traffic on the wired network, while customer wireless complaints have dropped by more than 85%.

“In October of 2009, we were supporting approximately 2,600 unique wireless sessions generating over 336 gigabytes of traffic,” said Gomez. “In November of 2011, these figures skyrocketed to over 12,000 unique wireless sessions generating over 2 terabytes of traffic just on the Wi-Fi network. That’s a dramatic a shift in a very short period of time.”

In the Wall Wireless With Wires

The ZoneFlex 7025 Wi-Fi wall switch integrates 802.11n Wi-Fi technology with wired Ethernet ports in a small-footprint (12.8cm by 8.5cm) wall jack, giving hotel and resort operators an elegant, low-cost, and inconspicuous device that allows them to leverage their existing wired infrastructure to deliver an ever expanding set of IP-based guest services over multiple virtual LANs (VLANs).

For many hoteliers, early Wi-Fi implementations are no longer able to keep up with the flood of wireless-only devices and bandwidth-demanding applications being used by guests and staff. Additionally, as many new services and hotel devices embrace IP as the preferred method of connectivity and management, the requirement for a converged wired and wireless network has quickly become a necessity. For hotels that have deployed an extensive wired Ethernet network, more ports are often required to connect new IP-enabled devices and support new multimedia services, but installing additional Ethernet switches in guest rooms can be cost prohibitive. Not only is it expensive and disruptive, but rewiring also requires more power and often involves special furniture designs to keep cables out of sight.

Deployed as a standalone device or centrally managed by any Ruckus ZoneDirector wireless LAN controller, the ZoneFlex 7025 Wi-Fi wall switch dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of installing and managing wired and wireless network services.

The Ruckus Wi-Fi wall switch is driven by a single power over Ethernet connection and provides four 10/100 Mbps Ethernet jacks and two uplink Ethernet wiring options. Additionally, the Ruckus Wi-Fi wall switch can provide PoE power to a device such as an IP phone and native connectivity to digital phones through a single digital PBX pass through port.

“We needed a solution to deploy in 100 percent of our guest rooms today that would solve our Wi-Fi issues, but also wanted to free up our cable plant to allow us to offer more IP connected services in the future to our guests without having to tear up walls and engage in major construction,” said Heckamann. “For the hotels, the Ruckus Wi-Fi wall switch has turned out to be an ideal solution for both our wired and wireless needs.”