What should hotels know about budgeting for wireless infrastructure in 2022?

Wi-Fi has become a requirement for guests, more than a sought-after amenity. According to a recent Hospitality Technology’s Lodging Technology study, 52% of hotels plan to enhance bandwidth and connectivity as an initiative that is “very or extremely important” for this coming year. They also plan to enhance data security, employee productivity and guest room technology, which all plays into a solid network infrastructure. This same study additionally highlighted that 90% of hotel operators currently offer or plan to offer free wi-fi in the next 12 months.

When budgeting for wireless infrastructure, hoteliers need to consider some key new technologies, industry challenges and guest requirements when making investments for upgrades or building new infrastructure. Richard Wagner, our Director of Certification and Compliance, who was an integral part of the creation of Marriott’s GPNS standards, helped answer these questions that need to be at the forefront of planning for wireless infrastructure this year.

What are some of the different infrastructure upgrades possible for hotels?

There are several infrastructure changes that are both possible and may be required:

  • Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6/6e to support the guests’ demand for higher bandwidth (resulting from increased demand from guests to stream their own content). In addition, as the carriers roll out 5G, the seamless roaming capability of 5G will require both integration with the carriers, as well as the need to upgrade the Wi-Fi infrastructure to Wi-Fi 6/6e.
  • Due to the fact that Wi-Fi 6/6e supports higher bandwidth, hotels may be required to upgrade both the Ethernet switch infrastructure, as well as the Internet bandwidth coming into the hotel.
  • As more and more Wi-Fi manufacturers are developing cloud-based controllers that provide management of the Wi-Fi infrastructure, the hotel may be required to migrate from an on-property controller to a cloud-based management platform.
  • Due to guest demands and reduction of hotel staff, the hotel may be required to deploy additional IoT devices (e.g. HVAC monitoring, water temperature monitoring), and contactless technologies, as well as the wireless network infrastructure to support them.
  • Due to the increased need to provide wireless coverage throughout the hotel (including the back office), the hotel may be required to install wireless wall plates (which include Ethernet wireless ports) in guest rooms and back of house.

It is important to note that due to the chip shortage and the lack of shipping infrastructure, the cost of wireless hardware will increase 30-40% for what’s currently available on the market. The chip shortage has also resulted in the inability of wireless manufacturers to produce Wi-Fi 6/6e wireless Access Points. Therefore, if a hotel requires that their existing Wi-Fi infrastructure be upgraded to Wi-Fi 6, they may not be able to purchase wireless products immediately. This is a key consideration for planning and timing

Has that changed since the pandemic started? Are hotels and guests different than they were pre-pandemic?

Yes. In most cases, guests are requiring less contact with hotel staff, and thus need other forms of communication with the hotel. This demand is being addressed by the installation of contactless technologies such as mobile keys, digital voice assistants, mobile apps, check-in kiosks, etc. In the case of the hotel, since they have reduced staffing, better tools and networks are required to support these new communication methods. This includes stronger Wi-Fi to support these new applications.

How do those upgrades impact the property and the guests?

On the plus side, guests will experience better Wi-Fi services (coverage and bandwidth). And for hotels, they’ll earn better guest satisfaction scores, increase loyalty, assist stretched staff with new technology and address new trends like workspitality/work-from-hotel guests. 

On the negative side, many properties did their digital transformation almost overnight, and many of their new tools may not have gone through the normal testing process. It’s important for any new technology to have a trusted provider for support and to be fully tested to mitigate downtime and frustrated guests and associates. 

How do these upgrades impact a hotel’s purchasing budget?

Due to the fact that over the past year and a half, hotel occupancy has been down, resulting in less revenue, the hotel may not have available funding to support the required upgrades. Hotels may need to look at different financing options, including OPEX vs. CAPEX models. However, long term, hotels may end up saving costs by implementing technology and infrastructure that enables greater operational efficiencies.

Any tips for hotels looking to upgrade?

Wi-Fi has become a must-have for business and leisure in hotels. So getting Wi-Fi right should be a top priority. Since most of the wireless traffic will be in public space, it is recommended that the access point upgrades first be performed in public spaces. In terms of switches, the hotel should plan on purchasing switches where they are required to support additional bandwidth requirements. Hotels should also consider investing in better monitoring products since many of the current Managed Service Providers are also in a situation of limited staff and therefore reduced real-time support.