Breaking Through Cell Barriers

By Tim Clark, Contributing Editor | March 04, 2014

It’s no secret that demands on hotels’ cellular services are greater than ever as guests expect and demand constant connectivity. Since guests typically carry multiple mobile devices, bandwidth and security issues become even more of a concern. Toss in upcoming FCC regulations around efforts to curb cell signal booster usage and it’s not hard to see that hotels face nearly insurmountable challenges in efforts to secure superior cell service for guests. Or do they?
While the aforementioned challenges are no doubt tricky to navigate, sometimes partnering with the right providers makes all the difference. This holds particularly true for The Beverly Hills Hotel (www.dorchestercollection.com/en/beverly-hills/the-beverly-hills-hotel), which incorporates bandwidth into its everyday work mandate.
“There’s bed, bath, breakfast and now bandwidth,” describes Adam Jones, director of information technology, The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air Beverly Hills. “We’ve seen a huge increase in bandwidth from major mobile providers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.”
The Beverly Hills Hotel retains 208 rooms on an 11-acre campus. A main head end system provides cellular coverage across the entire area. As a result, customers are able to pick up a steady stream from the hotel to meet their mobile capabilities versus from somewhere else in the city where the signal might not be as strong. Jones says he is seeing an increase of customers with 2.5 devices requiring cellular service, whereas just a few years ago people had only one device and iPads were WiFi only. “It all comes down to the supply and demand of bandwidth and providing lightning fast speed for downloading,” he notes. “A lot of our customers are aware of our WiFi service so they’ll jump on our complimentary or tiered pricing for hotel WiFi.”
Jones believes providing high connection speeds for guests, no matter where they are coming from, is a value add. Many international travelers from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the United Kingdom frequently stay at The Beverly Hills Hotel and carry different SIM cards. “We have to provide service for all frequencies and we are able to offer this through our engineering department and our mobile partners,” says Jones.
In order to make cellular service cost effective, The Beverly Hills Hotel partnered with Manley Solutions (www.manleysolutions.com), via a recommendation from Verizon (www.verizon.com).  The Beverly Hills Hotel retains more than 177 lines with Verizon. Manley ties into the main head end with a Distributed Antennae System (DAS), which is much more cost effective because they are using existing infrastructure, cabling, power and conduits. Jones admits that the hotel’s 100-year-old cement infrastructure had stymied some other vendors’ attempts to solve cellular issues. “Instead of installing additional cellular boosters, which can be very expensive, Manley provides a turnkey solution that basically hooks right into what we already have and redistributes to a line of sight that might be a problem area,” he explains.  “Maybe we had one palm tree that was 12 feet tall and now it’s 18 feet tall and the line of sight is a bit skewed. Manley comes in and redirects that line of sight.”

Jones said upcoming FCC regulations don’t affect The Beverly Hills Hotel as they have necessary permits drawn through the Beverly Hills Municipal Office. “We don’t install anything that isn’t license-based, so if an inspector were to stop by, they would quickly see that we’re all covered,” Jones reports. “At the end of the day, the only way we can be successful is to align with the carriers and make sure they are transparent with the hotels, to help us provide unique service.”

Boosting Bad: Don’t Fall Prey to Poor Signals, Quality Counts
Cellular connectivity is something that the Hyatt Regency (www.orlando.regen
cy.hyatt.com )
in Orlando also takes very seriously and like The Beverly Hills Hotel, uses cellular as a value add for guests. “You can be anywhere on our property and have no less than four bars,” Brian Seays, information technology director, asserts. “We think it’s possible to have a conference call in our elevators. That’s how serious we take this.”
To ensure they can provide guests with the best service possible from a wireless standpoint, Hyatt Regency partnered with AT&T (www.att.com) and Verizon on the design while Corning (www.corning.com) provided the DAS, which are predefined to meet all FCC regulations.

The key to successfully creating or upgrading cellular service is to use proven technologies, according to Seays. Corning was the first major player to provide 3G and 4G access over a DAS system, so the choice to partner with them was a no brainer. “You can use cellular boosters and repeaters but if you’ve already established a bad signal somewhere on your property, you’re just making a bad signal more widely available,” explains Seays. “That’s why we basically turned our hotel into a big, internal cell tower.”

Replicating a bad signal is a common pitfall that more businesses should avoid, Seays stresses. “We have an innate nature that makes us think to fix things we must make it louder,” he notes. “If you take a bad signal and replicate it you are making five unusable bars. When we first turned this system on, we were able to connect LTE phones and pulled down 28 mgs. That was three years ago and indicates the level of commitment and service we have in this area.”
While the integrity of the cell signal at Hyatt Regency Orlando is less of a concern, the amount and variety of devices that guests bring onto the property is. “When you build your system you have to take that into consideration,” says Seays. “Perhaps 2.5 devices per person seems like a low figure, but there’s an expectation that those devices work, wherever they are."

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