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Technology Prospectus 2019: Getting the most out of WiFi

30 November 2018 by
Technology Prospectus 2019: Getting the most out of WiFi

A long with a comfy bed, a great shower and a sufficient number of well-placed power sockets, free high-speed WiFi has become a necessity in hotels. If we can't
log on quickly and easily to check our emails and update our social media, our friends, family and, increasingly, the entire TripAdvisor community will know about it. And as our national binge-watching habit becomes even more ingrained, it's likely the same will soon apply to live streaming.

Hoteliers have responded in force. It's now absolutely the norm to offer high-quality WiFi for free, with 2MB a bottom-line minimum and many groups going far beyond that to offer guaranteed speeds of 10MB, 100MB or even 1GB, painfully aware that the damage to their reputation if they don't simply isn't worth it.

"A couple of years ago, it was just a utility - now it's oxygen," says Alison Thomson, senior account manager at BT WiFi. "The first thing guests do when they check in is ask 'What's your WiFi code?' Not 'what time does your restaurant open', or 'do you have a turn-down service' - categorically it's WiFi. And if the WiFi doesn't work, they will get slated."

HOSPA chief executive Jane Pendlebury agrees that WiFi is not something hoteliers can afford to scrimp on. "Guests who rely on a good WiFi connection will not return to a hotel that does not deliver," she says. "And this is the case for leisure and business guests alike."

BRING YOUR OWN
The biggest change Thomson has seen over the past 12 months is the growth in the number of hotels looking to install a facility to allow guests to cast their
own content - whether via Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Youtube or Spotify - from
their smartphone or iPad to the hotel's TV.

"People want to be able to watch their own content on the go," she says. "That is very prevalent across all of the hotels I'm speaking to at the moment and it's something that categorically wasn't around two or three years ago."

netflix-shutterstock 648761140
netflix-shutterstock 648761140

The most recent statistics back her up. Ofcom found in 2017 that eight in 10 adults in the UK - or 40 million people - use catch-up technology such as BBC iPlayer or subscription services like Netflix to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting, with one-third doing so every week and more than half monthly.

When it comes to choosing a specific product, a casting device suitable for the home won't do the job at a hotel. Operators need to be looking for a hospitality-certified device, such as Airwave's Chromecast for Hotels, which not only allows guests to use their smartphone or tablet as a remote control to cast their content onto the TV, but is also configured to prevent interference between rooms and housed in a protective casing to prevent tampering and theft. TV manufacturers are working to make casting technology as discreet as possible.

LG, for example, has created a cover that can be applied to the back of the TV, enabling the dongle, which plugs into the HDMI socket, to be hidden from view.

From a WiFi supplier perspective, the big questions are whether the casting solution provider works well with their access points and whether the hotel has enough of them. In order to compete with some of the new hotels, hoteliers have to allow guests to stream their chosen content from their mobile devices up to the TV, so it's important that whoever supplies the WiFi has threaded it into the bedrooms, Thomson says.

"Historically, WiFi suppliers would put one access point in the corridor that would cover maybe two, three or four bedrooms. Now, most of us are putting access points in each bedroom to make sure they they've got enough coverage for their TV facilities."

CHANNEL HOPPING
For Pendlebury, while giving guests access to streaming services they've already subscribed to at home is becoming more and more popular, premium content isn't dead yet.

"[Streaming is] very important to certain travellers, if not all. But guests will always want TV in their local language. News will always be important, along with an option to watch movies and box sets on demand," she says. "Guests' 'home' TV channels will always be popular too."

For the moment, the key is to offer guests the flexibility of either bringing their own content or watching the hotel's. The Sky Select service, the first centralised HD distribution system in the UK aimed at hoteliers, was designed specifically to help operators provide a flexible content offer. It allows them to deliver HD-quality sport, entertainment and movie content to multiple TVs across their hotel while also incorporating Freeview and foreign channels.

In addition, hoteliers can easily swap existing channels and add more to suit their guest profile at any time. They also have the choice to incorporate a tailored welcome channel to greet their guests alongside Sky's familiar electronic programme guide.

That said, looking ahead, Thomson believes there will be a decline in the number of hoteliers buying these sorts of content packages: "More and more guests will expect to be able to watch their own content from their own devices, which will mean there will be less stress on hotels to think in advance about what package they need to buy from TV suppliers," she predicts.

With many hoteliers tied into long-term content contracts at present, there's certainly a question mark over whether they can realistically keep up with the move towards more guests bringing their own.

CONNECTED ROOMS
The other big evolution in in-room entertainment has been the advent of the mobile-centric room, which has hit the hospitality industry headlines frequently over the last year with the launch of Hilton's 'Connected Room'.

Through the Hilton Honors app, guests staying in select hotels in the US can now use their mobile device as an in-room remote control to access their favourite streaming media, set their preferred room temperature and turn the lights on and off, personalising their preferences just as they would at home.

The global brand, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019, has also developed a sleek new TV remote and built room controls into the TV so guests who don't have the app can make use of the room's features too.

The concept will start to spread across Hilton's UK hotels in 2019, with the ultimate goal of rolling-out the concept to Hilton's entire operation across more than 100 countries and 14 current brands. Longer term, guests will also be able to do things like upload their photos and art to display digitally in the room, as well as use voice commands to control their room's features or access their own content.

And Hilton isn't the only hotel brand experimenting with app-controlled rooms. Marriott has teamed up with Samsung and Legrand to begin the development of its Internet of Things Guestroom Lab, which will ultimately allow users to do everything from asking a virtual assistant for a wake-up call to requesting additional housekeeping services or even starting the shower at the temperature
stored in their customer profile - all by voice or app.

Meanwhile, at Hub by Premier Inn, guests have been able to control everything,
from the lighting to the heating, air conditioning and TV via the brand's app for several years.

Plus, the enormous map on the wall of every guest room is an augmented reality city guide. All guests need to do is point their smartphone camera at it and details on various points of interest will appear.

More and more hotel apps also allow guests to choose their rooms, as well as turn their smartphones into digital keys, reducing queue times at check-in. It all adds up to creating the seamless, personalised experience guests are quickly coming to expect, while at the same time bringing important operational benefits to hoteliers.

For example, when guests aren't physically in their rooms - typically around 70% of the time, according to Hilton's vice-president of brand and guest technology Josh Weiss - hotels can power-down devices such as the television, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and lights, dramatically reducing energy consumption.

Hotel managers also have access to a 'Mission Control' screen, where they can monitor problems and see which features guests do and don't use, allowing for an even more personalised experience.

"We're speaking to different hotel companies in different ways, but what they all want is to have more loyalty from customers," Thomson says. "In the next 12 months, all of the big leading brands will have some type of in-room app. The WiFi element is a massive piece of this, because if the coverage is not good in the
hotel, the apps won't work."

THE DEATH OF THE IN-ROOM TELEPHONE
It's certainly not the norm yet for guests to be able to order food or other hotel services via an app, but there's no question that this is the way the industry is heading. "There is one item that I can personally see will be placed in the annals of history very soon, and that is telephones in hotel bedrooms," says Jonathan Lee, solutions business analyst at hospitality technology company Guestline.

"Even though they are still used to communicate with reception desks, housekeeping or removal services, we are going to see these replaced by interactive televisions, tablet devices in rooms and even a business-own voice over IP app."

in-room-wifi-shutterstock 457634998
in-room-wifi-shutterstock 457634998

Thomson agrees. "The only thing that the in-bedroom telephones are used for these days is for ordering room service, so what [hotel brands] are hoping to do is redevelop their apps so guests are able to order their food and services directly from their app."

According to Wyatt Cavalier, co-founder and chief executive of commercial coffee machine company Bibium, app controls are even likely to extend to the room's coffee-making facilities.

"The days of a standard kettle, some teabags and a few sachets of instant coffee are fast declining," he says. "Integrated WiFi within coffee-making machines
use apps that allow guests to order and make quality coffee on demand, and
telemetry provides hoteliers with an accurate picture of popularity and usage, enabling them to deliver an optimum service.

"With WiFi infrastructure now an essential element of a hotel's setup, hoteliers should be doing what they can to use it to full effect, improving the guest experience while also allowing hoteliers to differentiate their offering, setting them apart from rival hotels in what is a very competitive industry."

Pendlebury has one caveat. "The key is to make it easy for the guest. There's no point adding these facilities if they cause frustration, so seamless simplicity is key."

Driving repeat business with WiFi

When 36-strong hotel group GLH decided it was time to upgrade its WiFi service, it wanted a fast, hassle-free installation, a consistent connection that would work through all hotels and individual consideration for each installation.

By working closely with general managers and IT departments from each hotel,
and tailoring each installation to the structure of the buildings, BT WiFi was able
to ensure that everything ran smoothly, every hotel stayed open and there was minimal disruption to operations.

Pillars, mirrors, the changing dynamics of a building, a decorator knocking an access point - these buildings move and live, and BT understands that,'' says
GLH chief technical officer Chris Hewertson.

GLH is now one of BT WiFi's biggest partners, and since the installation, WiFi usage has sky-rocketed, the group has seen a 13% increase in loyalty, and there's been growth in business-tobusiness custom, with GLH hotels hosting even more major conferences.

Pete Oliver, BT Consumer's managing director ofAs older smartphones are not set up to be charged wirelessly, wireless charging points are far from becoming
a must-have, either in hotel rooms or public spaces.

Yet, BT has just introduced the technology and is encouraging hoteliers to consider it for bars and restaurants. "Typically, if you can go into a bar and put your mobile phone on the bar and charge it while you're having a drink, it puts pennies behind the bar and the guest is more likely to sit there," says Thomson.

Wireless charging suppliers can also provide hoteliers with statistics around the times guests start to charge their devices and how long they stay, allowing managers to look at whether their spend increases during the time they're charging their phones.

At present there are more than 50 million devices - encompassing more than 80
varieties of smartphones - that support wireless charging.

By 2020, that number is set to reach roughly 1 billion, with 93% of consumers who don't yet own a wireless charging device keen to have the functionality in
their next smartphone commercial marketing and digital, says: ''In the past year
there were more than one billion minutes used on the WiFi network in their hotels.

And for me, that says that it's really working for their customers, the customers are really valuing it, and it will be driving repeat business."

The rise of the wireless charger

As older smartphones are not set up to be charged wirelessly, wireless charging
points are far from becoming a must-have, either in hotel rooms or public spaces.
Yet, BT has just introduced the technology and is encouraging hoteliers to
consider it for bars and restaurants. "Typically, if you can go into a bar and put your mobile phone on the bar and charge it while you're having a drink, it puts pennies behind the bar and the guest is more likely to sit there," says Thomson.

wireless-charging-shutterstock 490532113
wireless-charging-shutterstock 490532113

Wireless charging suppliers can also provide hoteliers with statistics around the times guests start to charge their devices and how long they stay, allowing managers to look at whether their spend increases during the time they're charging their phones.

At present there are more than 50 million devices - encompassing more than 80
varieties of smartphones - that support wireless charging.

By 2020, that number is set to reach roughly 1 billion, with 93% of consumers who don't yet own a wireless charging device keen to have the functionality in their next smartphone.

Sponsor's comment: BT
We work with hotels all over the UK and Ireland, connecting every guest room, meeting space, corridor, bar and lounge to deliver a smooth service throughout. We make sure your guests receive the WiFi service that matches your brand.

Providing a great WiFi service instantly makes your guests more comfortable; they can kick back, relax and connect - and they're far more likely to stay again. You can capture data to learn more about their WiFi usage, tailoring your communications to promote the services they want.

With WiFi from BT, it's all about choice. Choose from options to incorporate WiFi use into room bills or straight onto customer credit/debit cards - linking into your Property Management System - ideal for business travellers wanting everything on one bill.

Through loyalty schemes, you can give your most valued guests free or reduced-rate WiFi, and generate access codes with different bandwidth limits.

Plus, with our UK helpdesk we're always on hand to help your guests and solve any problems, either through you or directly to your guests.

bt-logo
bt-logo

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