Overcoming Connectivity Challenges to Seize Opportunities

Reprinted from Hospitality Technology
By Dorothy Creamer, Editor – 07/31/2019

Read the full article here.

Strategic objectives for hospitality technology in 2019 puts a hyper-focus on improving digital customer engagement. Delivering on the mobile-driven and constantly connected needs of today’s guests will require robust bandwidth and uninterrupted connectivity. In this executive roundtable, three executives from hotel and technology companies offer advice and predictions on what trends are shaping the network needs for hotels and restaurants. These plugged-in experts also discuss new technology and capabilities that were not available just a few years ago and what they believe is vital to providing a foundation for the digital economy.

PANELISTS:

Mark Holzberg, CEO & President, Cloud5 Communications

Justin Jabara, VP Development and Acquisitions, Meyer Jabara Hotels

Richard Wagner, Network Architecture & Emerging Technologies, Marriott International

According to Hospitality Technology research (2019 Lodging Technology Study enhancing bandwidth is not high on the list of strategic technology objectives, however all of the higher goals are dependent upon strong bandwidth. What would you offer as a word of advice (or warning) to operators that try to build up digital without a proper network infrastructure?

MARK HOLZBERG: Bandwidth is the foundation of a positive guest connectivity experience. Adding high-consumption applications, such as screencasting or voice-based engagement, to an over-utilized network will result in disaster for guest satisfaction. As capacity hog applications reduce the performance across the network, guest satisfaction declines, and guest scores suffer. The result of poor network infrastructure planning is ultimately less bookings and lower revenue as potential future guests bypass your hotel to book other local properties that have better online guest ratings and reviews.

JUSTIN JABARA: With today’s pervasiveness of technology, guests have adopted BYOD (Bring your own Device) into the world of hospitality. Whether a guest is attending a conference with a laptop or a teenager is watching Netflix in their hotel room on their iPad, both events require robust Wi-Fi access. Fifty percent of that Wi-Fi solution depends on having plenty of bandwidth. Without that, the guest experience will become just as negative as an uncomfortable bed.

RICHARD WAGNER: Hotels need to plan to replace on-property networking equipment in stages. That is, plan to replace edge switches in phases and consider where they will be needed in the future (e.g. the need to support higher bandwidth with Wi-Fi6).

What technology or advancement do you think has the most potential to improve the state of connectivity in hospitality?

HOLZBERG: No question that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have the most impact on connectivity for operators and guests over the next five years. The industry can expect to see significant advancements through AI-driven technologies that power self-healing networks and predictive guest engagement. Over the last few years alone, we have experienced tremendous growth and changes in smart network management. Considering we are on the cusp of the IoT (Internet of Things) generation, it is simply not practical to manage complex technological environments without the more advanced automation and innovation that AI and machine learning delivers.

JABARA: IoT has the potential to become a part of the guest experience. Think of how pervasive Amazon Alexa, Google Home (or other AI products) have become a part of our homes. Similar to making our homes “smarter,” the same experience can be adopted to the hospitality industry. It can offer guests the ability to set the room temperature, dim the lights, or create wake-up reminders. It really is an opportunity to expand guest experience to another level.

WAGNER: I have really been pushing for fiber to the guest room through the use of either Active Ethernet or GPON. By deploying fiber, the hotel is well prepared for any future unknown bandwidth needs and will most likely never have to re-cable guest rooms or telco closets again.

 

What is the most common mistake you see operators making with their network infrastructure and what can they do to fix it?

HOLZBERG: A common mistake is to over- or under-engineer a network. Those mistakes can cost operators more upfront and down the line as well. With technology’s naturally rapid rate of change, most upgrades should be planned for three to five years after initial installation. That doesn’t necessarily mean a complete rip and replace. Portions of a network can be upgraded, without a full overhaul. Every network, as the word itself implies, is a collection of many components. Not considering interoperability of new components into an existing network is another common mistake.

JABARA: The most common mistake operators make is not budgeting for Guest HSIA improvements. Flags are continually changing standards to meet the demand of the guest Internet experience. Couple that with the explosion in new Wi-Fi technology and the result is a shorter “shelf life” of the wireless system. Operators should plan to upgrade equipment every four to five years at a minimum.

Another common mistake operators make is trying to reduce cost by sharing the Internet circuit between the back-office and guests. This negatively affects both the staff and guest experience. Additionally, it exposes a potential security risk.

WAGNER: An all-too-common mistake is deploying new wireless technology, like Wi-Fi 6, and not installing either the required switch infrastructure or WAN bandwidth to support the new technology.

 

How must network maintenance and management evolve as technology and usage develops?

HOLZBERG: Suppliers must simplify updating and upgrading hardware. As guest-facing technology changes rapidly, operators must make updates in order to maintain satisfaction. Operators would be more willing to update equipment on a regular basis with less invasive processes that allow business as usual without any interruption. In the near future, updating software for a hotel or restaurant should be as automated and easy as it is on our mobile phones today. It will also become necessary to utilize AI to support managing network services.

JABARA: From a security perspective, attack vectors present on modern day hotels offer numerous methods for bad actors to use for the exfiltration of guest PII (Personal Identifiable Information) data. The requirements that being set by corporate flags are becoming more secure every year. Security is a moving target; what works one year is not sufficient in the years to come. Two-factor authentication, intrusion detection, strict IT policies and end-user training are just some of the methods that are becoming more commonplace as tools to protect PII data.

WAGNER: I think the key here is monitoring the environment and knowing when things are going to break or need to be replaced. I also think that most hotels don’t purchase sparing equipment that would allow them to replace a broken piece of networking gear and thus bring the equipment back online more quickly.

 

So much emphasis is on guest-facing connectivity, what must be considered for total enterprise?

HOLZBERG:
 
Consider the sheer volume of computing devices we are already managing or enabling on both guest and enterprise networks. Enterprises must start considering a holistic view across all hardware and applications for guests and beyond. Focus on developing a strategy for network management and analysis that leverages tools for analytics, AI, and machine learning. Press hardware manufacturers to consider next generation firmware that will enable simplification so that machine learning techniques not only identify issues, but also automate the resolution. By enabling the network to be more automated and self-healing, operators will better serve the interest of both the enterprise and the guest.

JABARA: For the guest to have a reliable wireless Internet experience, all aspects must be well planned, from a dedicated and properly sized Internet circuit to high performance network switches. Furthermore, strategically place sufficient wireless access points for proper coverage. Making sure high-density wireless access points support high demand areas is also significant. Lastly, a “single pane of glass” must centrally manage the entire wireless system. The days of independent wireless routers scattered throughout a property is no longer scalable and realistic to manage.