Management Bundle Aids Wireless Hotels

By Ed Sutherland

November 18, 2004

Two companies are bundling services to help hoteliers get all their guest rooms on the Internet with Wi-Fi, fast.

As the number of hotels offering high-speed Internet access continues to climb, two New England Wi-Fi startups are bundling the software and services they say take the panic and worry out of the process.

Community WISP and Single Digits are now offering HotelWISP, a bundle of wireless connectivity along with a hotspot management tool responding to the need for a "faster, more cost-effective method of deploying wireless Internet" service.

"Our technology bridges the hotel to the Internet while Single Digits lights up each guest room, meeting room, and common area, bringing high-speed Internet access to the guest's laptop or handheld device anywhere on the property," said Robert Zakarian, CEO of Community WISP.

While the two-year-old startups have separately created a way to connect hotels to the Internet via fixed wireless and secure Wi-Fi hotspots, the real potential for hotel owners appears when the companies join forces.

"By combining our prospective expertise into one solution, we are now able to offer hotels faster deployment times, expanded service and support, and one point of contact for the entire installation," said Frank Hayes, Single Digits' CEO.

The HotelWISP bundle uses Motorola's 5Ghz Canopy system for backhaul. A small microwave antenna is installed on the hotel's roof while Wi-Fi APs are installed inside—all connected to an ISP. The hotspot management software from Single Digits provides security, user authentication, and billing for both public and private areas. The bundle is leased to hotels on a yearly basis with fees depending on usage or the number of licenses, according to the companies.

Advantages of using wireless over traditional wired Ethernet include bypassing the slower local telco's "local loop," reducing deployment time, "phone bill quality" usage reports, and the ability to control wireless availability by free and paid access, along with guests and staff.

While more than half of the nation's hotel chains now offer broadband Internet connections (according to a survey conducted by Smith Travel Research) the majority provide high-speed links via wired Ethernet. Within the last 18 months, however, many hotel corporate offices have begun mandating the use of Wi-Fi, says Vandervoort.

The hotel industry is "expecting Wi-Fi in guest areas and meeting rooms," says Community WISP. Already, business travelers expect to have broadband access when they arrive.

Best Western CEO Tom Higgins has already stated that he believes free broadband connections will be common in the hotel industry. The hotel giant expects by the end of 2004 to have free broadband access in 99 percent of its hotels in North America.

By bundling the connectivity and management features, HotelWISP "takes the panic and worry out of the situation," says Belinda Vandervoort, spokesperson for Community WISP.

The bundle also prevents any disruption in hotel service, says both Concord, Mass-based Community WISP and Manchester, NH-based Single Digits. Along with fixed wireless preventing the disruption of laying traditional copper wiring, the management software is hosted offsite, meaning extra workers won't need to be hired in order to manage the new wireless network.

"With this new end-to-end solution, innkeepers and general managers now may have the convenience of one vendor, one bill and—most importantly—one phone call for support," said Diane Hodun, innkeeper at The Sise Inn, a 34-room Queen Anne Victorian-style hotel located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that uses HotelWISP.



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