Unisys to Run Hotel Hotspots

By Eric Griffith

May 01, 2003

The Starwood chain is sticking with Unisys -- the provider of its in-room Ethernet connections -- to power the common area hotspots in its owned properties.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide runs over 750 hotels under various brand names, including W, St. Regis, Westin, and Sheraton. People who own their own franchise location can set up whatever deals they want to provide wireless coverage for guests -- and they have, as some have deals with Wayport and others for wired and unwired access.

However, some of the locations fully owned by Starwood have been running an Ethernet-based service called TurboNet, a private labeled solution they get from Unisys , in rooms since early 2002. So when it came time for Starwood to partner with Intel as part of the "Unwire" marketing campaign for Intel's Centrino, the hotelier again went to Unisys, this time get the hotspots installed.

"[Starwood] had deadlines to create hotspots to get funding from Intel," says Larry Mays, managing director of broadband solutions at Unisys. He says that being such a large company, Unisys was able to meet Starwood's needs fast: "We did 60 properties in three weeks, and we'll soon have 150." Initial properties with TurboNet hotspots are in select W, Westin, and Sheraton hotels.

Unisys also had to train people, specifically the lobby staff such as the concierge and front desk, to handle basic questions customers might have about the hotspot service. That usually meant training three different shifts of personnel.

TurboNet is private labeled, so users never know they're using Unisys services.

"Unlike others looking for brand equity, we're b2b (business-to-business); we don't want to be the brand to the guest," says Mays. "We allow our customers to private label it, and we do the services on the back end."

Unisys uses only Cisco equipment in its setups, all of which tie back to their network operations center (NOC) for monitoring and troubleshooting. Not only do they configure and install the equipment, but they handle the helpdesk so that any user calls about TurboNet are answered by Unisys staff, who answer the phone as if they're in the hotel. Unisys has two levels of support help -- the second level can come in to trouble shoot truly unruly connection problems and use diagnostic tools to help. If there's a point of failure, the company will dispatch personal to the property to deal with it.

As yet, Starwood doesn't provide any TurboNet subscriptions per month for roaming. Mays estimates that the mean price for TurboNet is probably $9.95 for a 24 hour period, but charges range up or down depending upon the utilization rate. The service pulls in more users in metropolitan areas and big convention center areas. The utilization of the in-room Ethernet connections has consistently grown, but the hotspots are too new to have numbers.

Unisys only has one hotspot customer now, and that's Starwood. The hotel chain picked Unisys since it had a good experience with the in-room wired connections from them and didn't want to deal with multiple companies. Unisys does provide wired connections for other hotels chains, and has its "InRoom Connect" service in 2500 properties. Mays says that while they are in discussions to do more wireless deployments, including into commercial and residential markets, the vast majority of their future installs are going to be wired.

"There's no less cost making it wireless in the guest room," says Mays. "The phones, TVs, etc., in guest rooms are wired. [Wireless] makes sense in the pools, the lobby, the bar, the common areas."

802.11 Planet Conference Would you sit in the Starwood lobby to pay for your access or run out to find an open Wi-Fi network? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, June 25 - 27, 2003 at the World Trade Center Boston in Boston, MA. Experts will be tackling that very quesion in a discussion panel we like to call Will People Pay for Hotspot Service?

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