THE COMMODITIZATION OF WI-FI | Part I: The Mobile Revolution

Dan Lulich, Chief Technology Officer at Eleven

When Internet use first began to rise dramatically, due in large part to the mobile revolution, the hospitality industry collectively turned to guests to pay for Wi-Fi. However, this practice quickly proved unsustainable as guests began to expect at least a basic level of Wi-Fi for free. It’s now up to hoteliers to create a balance between meeting guest expectations and recovering infrastructure costs, either directly or indirectly.

The recent commitment of many major brands to provide free Internet access is putting more pressure on other hoteliers to follow suit. Many hotels simply don’t have enough pipe and the demand for bandwidth shows no signs of slowing down. Just look around any given hotel lobby and you will see how bandwidth gets easily congested; virtually everyone carries a Wi-Fi-enabled smart phone and, chances are, they have a tablet or laptop in their room too. Add on top of that a cloud-based hotel management system and you have a very congested hotel network on your hands (read more in our Perfect Bandwidth Storm series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

However, there’s no avoiding this bandwidth demand. Just as guests “demand” locks on doors and hot water, Internet has become a necessity – a commodity. The world wide web has undoubtedly changed the way we connect; survey after survey has showed that most travelers consider poor Wi-Fi a deal-breaker; they won’t re-book at a property where they had an inadequate online experience. Additionally, business simply doesn’t get done without the Internet and business travelers (who often bring in more revenue to your hotel than their leisure counterparts) can’t afford to stay at a hotel without a reliable Internet connection.

Long-term benefits of a reliable guest online experience include increased guest satisfaction and better hotel reputation. However, the question remains, how do we change the industry business model to accommodate the growing expectations of mobile-equipped guests? Hospitality will continue to need upgrades to infrastructure as more and more guests stream video and music, conduct video conferences, download large files, and take part in other a growing list of bandwidth-hogging activities.

The hospitality industry needs to get creative in capturing new revenue streams – both direct (think tiered bandwidth plans) and indirect (think marketing and advertising) to recoup technology costs.

Stay tuned for Part II of this post that covers some creative ideas in our vision of the new tech hotel!