The Bandwidth Balance

By Tammy Mastroberte | August 10, 2009

When it comes to bandwidth, it seems that one can never have too much. As people become more tech savvy, they require more and more bandwidth to meet their needs, and for hotel operators who rely on guest satisfaction for return stays, this usually means more money.

"Every time we increase our bandwidth there is a fee to pay," says Rob Williams, vice president of hotel operations at the Moline, Ill.-based Heart of America Restaurants and Inns, (www.heartofamericahotels.com) operator of 11 hotels and 16 restaurants. "We have done it repeatedly for the past three or four years because our usage reports show us regularly bursting over the limit. I have seen my bandwidth costs go to $1,000 a month on average, and just six years ago we were only paying $400."

Many hotels with a single T1 line have added a second one, or have combined it with a DSL line to increase capacity, and many newly constructed locations are starting out with more than one from the beginning of operations.

"We started out with one T1 line in the past, but now when we build new locations, we start with two or three lines in the beginning," says Greg Epp, vice president and controller of Wichita, Kan.-based LodgeWorks, (www.lodgeworks.com) operating 24 locations, and an additional nine currently under construction. "Also, in existing hotels, we have upgraded to two T1 lines or a T1 and a supplemental DSL line."

Supplementing with a DSL line, or load balancing, will provide the same performance for less money, Williams explains. While a T1 line offers 1.5 megabytes, a DSL can range from 3 to 8 megabytes, according to Epp.

"If we need to increase again, we will look at adding a bigger DSL pipe instead of adding more T1 lines at 1.5 megabytes each," Epp notes. "The T1 is more reliable, so we use that, but the DSL gives you volume and is less expensive when combined."

He is also taking this approach at some of the new hotel locations where DSL is available. "You get more bandwidth for your money that way," he says.

Windsor Capital Group Inc., based in Santa Monica, Calif. (www.wcghotels.com) is taking the same approach with its 27 locations. The company used a single T1 line at all of its properties, but increased to two T1 lines in 2005, explains Charlie Lystrup, chief technology officer at Windsor. Since then, the company upgraded several properties to four, and in some cases six, T1 lines.

"We use an AT&T program that allows us the flexibility to increase and decrease the number of T1s as needed without penalty," he says. "In addition, some Windsor properties use a blend of T1 and cable or DSL to meet the growing demand for bandwidth in the guest room," Lystrup notes. AT&T (www.att.com) is the company's tier one Internet provider for data, and it is also working with Fatpip (www.fatpipeinc.com), Elfiq (www.elfiq.com) and Radware (www.radware.com) to standardize with a single vendor, he explains.
Setting limits
No matter how much bandwidth a hotel provides, if there is not a system in place to balance it across the property, providing an adequate amount for each guests, the hotel will inevitably end up with complaints.

Many operators are turning to bandwidth shaping devices, which allow the property to set a limit on bandwidth for each guest so nobody gets the short end of the stick.

"The challenge is balancing guest satisfaction with cost, and the ability to limit bandwidth is a good feature," says Williams, who relies on bandwidth shaping using EthoStream's Bandwidth Management System from Telkonet (www.telkonet.com).

"If you have one or two guests who are downloading movies, watching TV shows over the Internet or doing peer to peer network file sharing, they will take up a lot of bandwidth, basically leaving nothing for anyone else," LodgeWorks' Epp says.

His company started using bandwidth shaping options from IBAHN (www.ibahn.com) and Guest-Tek (www.guest-tek.com), where guests are limited to 384K each, allowing them to access e-mail and surf the Web at reasonable speeds, notes Epp.

"Bandwidth shaping is an additional service we pay for, but our guest satisfaction scores are higher where we have it," Epp says. "We rely on our guest satisfaction scores because you can continue to add T1s and you will still get people who complain it's not good enough. That is why bandwidth shaping helps us."
 

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