Wi-Fi at the Seaport

By Vikki Lipset

May 21, 2003

Not everyone wants to make a buck off hotspots. Boston's upscale Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center -- the home of the upcoming 80211Planet Conference & Expo -- believes free wireless Internet access is one route to happy return customers.

Some experts believe that free hotspots are the way of the future. For Boston's Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center, the question was "why wait?"

The complex last month extended its complementary wireless access from the hotel's lobby and public spaces to the World Trade Center's 250,000 square feet of meeting rooms and exhibition halls, the home of the 802.11 Planet Conference and Expo, to be held June 25-27. Steve Bearden, the Seaport's chief information officer, believes free wireless access will eventually be a standard amenity and one expected by business travelers.

"We pride ourselves in trying to be ahead of the technology trend curve, so we built this in anticipation of future demand," he said. "We're hoping that if we build it, they will come."

The six-year-old hotel has offered high-tech perks from the get-go, including free high-speed, Ethernet-based Internet access in each of its 426 guest rooms. Where many hotels are turning to third-party systems integrators such as Wayport or Unisys, the Seaport built its own network. "We built the infrastructure ourselves because we wanted to be able to offer it as a free amenity and we wanted the flexibility to control it ourselves," said Bearden

When wireless started to take off, Bearden said, they simply connected Cisco access points to the network they had set up for the guest rooms.

To go along with the free Wi-Fi, the hotel also offers a "cyber cafe" option. Business travelers without laptops can request that a wireless-enabled PC be placed outside their meeting room to be used during breaks. (The cost of the cyber cafe option normally varies, but Bearden said that anyone referencing this story would receive free cyber cafe terminals when they booked a meeting at the Seaport.)

The hotel has six cyber cafe computers ready to go at any time, Bearden said. "Using the wireless we can put them anywhere in the complex, which is nice because you don't have to have any systems expertise; the banquet people can just plug it in and turn it on."

Bearden said that while the 25 access points throughout the complex provide good coverage, he is in the process of upgrading the network to add redundancy and additional bandwidth in order to offer more efficient throughput. Specifically, he is adding a second T1 line.

"We're treating it as a more critical system [now]," he said. "Originally it was just throw a network out there and see who uses it. Now people are starting to depend on it more and more."

For next month's 802.11 Planet Conference and Expo, Jupitermedia, the producers of the show and this site's corporate parent, are bringing about a dozen additional access points and three T1 lines. "They're going to bring in their own infrastructure and use it in tandem with ours so there's plenty of bandwidth and coverage for the show," said Bearden.

While the Seaport doesn't yet have an official count on the number of users taking advantage of its free wireless access, Bearden said he has noticed an increasing number of people using laptops in the hotel lobby. It's too soon to measure the response in the World Trade Center, he said, as the free Wi-Fi has only been available for about a month.

As for the guest rooms, Bearden said they are seeing a usage rate of about 8 percent per occupied room. "It's still kind of low, but I think high-speed Internet in a guest room is still a little bit new to most travelers."

The service has created quite a few repeat customers, he said, adding that the free wireless access is likely to prompt similar loyalty. "We want to be able to provide a business-friendly environment. More and more people are starting to pay attention to where hotspots are to get work done."

And if travelers forget their Wi-Fi card at home, they can even buy a spare in the hotel's gift shop.

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.