The transition to a converged network has important implications for the hospitality industry. A converged network can drive down costs by eliminating the need to install and support multiple infrastructures such as HDTV, HSIA, telephone, energy management, access control, CCTV, building management, paging, minibar and life safety systems. Adding applications becomes incremental once the technical foundationÃ.‚¬"a wired and wireless infrastructure offering sufficient bandwidth and multicasting abilityÃ.‚¬"is available.
Equally exciting are the potential services hospitality organizations can provide. These days, many once-venerable services have become expectations rather than treats. Half of 6,000 properties surveyed by the American Hotel & Lodging Association had high-speed Internet access in 2004, 98 percent had cable or satellite TV, and 78 percent had voice mail. And, according to the Hospitality Technology Lodging Industry Technology Study, "Profiting from Lodging IT,"83 percent of respondents currently have wired Internet access in guestrooms (74% offer wireless), while five percent more plan to offer it in 2006.
The new guest
Guests are rapidly becoming less dependent upon hotels or restaurants to facilitate communication and entertainment. Many carry their own means to place calls, transfer data and view entertainment content. ItÃ.‚¬s harder than ever to wow clientele with technology they donÃ.‚¬t have at home, and to generate revenue by providing entertainment and services. The US market also boasts nearly 50 million mobile workers who need Internet connectivity on the go for business use, according to the Yankee Group.
Hospitality organizations, then, need to adapt to this changing market by discovering ways to complement guestsÃ.‚¬ own technology with enhanced equipment and services. Technology-focused hospitality organizations need to make it easy for a guest to integrate his or her own devices with large screens, wireless keyboards, printers, telephone systems, and the like, to give the guest a higher quality experience. Then they need to go beyond that, providing content and capabilities that outstrip what they carry in their pockets.
A number of hotels have introduced multimedia console devices with data ports to connect guest equipment to the hotels, such as linking MP3 and CD players to amplifier and speaker systems, digital video and still cameras to audio systems and displays, or portable memory sticks to in-room displays, virtual or physical keyboards and office applications. As systems convert to IP, control consoles will also be used to control lighting, temperature, television, sound systems, window shades and other in-room amenities.
The challenge is getting the IP infrastructure in place to provide a widening array of integrated services, particularly in existing properties, and in complying with evolving standards and devices. According to HTNGÃ.‚¬s Rice, a typical midmarket, U.S. full service, 200-room hotel with one restaurant and average technology sophistication operates 67 different systems and major modules from 45 different vendors. Other industries are farther along in the migration to IP networks that can unify these systems, he says, but this process can be painful and expensive. HTNGÃ.‚¬s answer is hotels and vendors working together to create solution sets that offer basic functionality, with proprietary enhancements added to individual products, complementing existing standards.
IP convergence infrastructure is not the only technology hospitality organizations need to keep an eye on. These other standards and technologies will affect hospitality networks in the near future:
Ultra Wideband: UWB transmits and receives very short bursts of broadband radio signals, enabling content-rich data such as wireless TV to be transmitted short distances such as across a hotel room.
IMS: IP Multimedia Subsystem is an emerging convergence architecture for telecommunications, enabling multimedia services and applications such as voice, UPTV, networking and the Internet, to be delivered to any end user IP device.
Wireless Mesh Network: A network created through the connection of low-power wireless access points installed at each network userÃ.‚¬s locale. Each network user is also a provider, dynamically forwarding data to the next node, and decreasing the need for Internet gateways.
Mesh networks are beginning to emerge as city-wide hot zones, which may penetrate urban hospitality properties. According to In-Stat, the cafÃƒ© market continues to dominate hotspots, led by branded chains, and will reach 100,000 venues worldwide by 2009.
Smart Phones: A single phone capable of operating within and moving between Wi-Fi hotspots, voice over IP (VoIP) technology, cell phone service, and voice over wireless local area networks (VoWLANs) are gaining popularity according to Insight Research Corporation. Guests packing these will expect access on hospitality premises.
High-speed Wireless USB: A standard, under development, that will offer the benefits of USB without the cable, connecting PC-based components wirelessly. External plug-in devices will eventually be supplanted by embedded solutions.
WiMax - The IEEE 802.16 standard for broadband wireless access networks, extending the WLAN family with a range of up to 30 miles and enabling multimedia applications. Guests are increasingly likely to bring their own wireless Internet access via this technology. The first WiMAX Forum Certified products are expected to be available by the end of 2005.
The IP future
Recent high-definition movies, sports and TV shows soon wonÃ.‚¬t be enough. To deliver an outstanding experience and differentiate entertainment offerings from what guests can bring themselves, hospitality organizations will need to deliver a rich variety of IP content.
Today, offering a standout experience to guests requires going beyond video-on-demand and pay-per-view. Preliminary results from the 2005 Lodging Industry Technology Study indicate that 22 percent of respondents have IP-based TV or video, or will by 2006. Hospitality companies are also beginning to introduce TV-based e-mail, streaming music, interactive programming and gaming. Bars and restaurants are capitalizing on the opportunity to deliver local and out-of-market games in HDTV.
Content will need to evolve to keep pace with rising consumer demands and compete favorably with what a guest may carry with them. Programming such as exercise, spiritual and motivational content will be used to complement hotel services in these areas.
An in-room spin bike, for example, could be enhanced by a spin exercise class video on a large flat panel HDTV, surround sound audio, and can even be monitored by an EEG machine to duplicate the highly charged environment of a guestÃ.‚¬s regular gym experience. Rather than tackle a hotelÃ.‚¬s list of local houses of worship, the guest could view, and perhaps interact with, a service in his or her denomination of choice via top-rate audio and visual equipment.
Mandarin Oriental hotels are moving toward delivery of exclusive high definition television content, according to David Heckaman, president of the The Heckaman Group and acting VP of technology for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in the Americas. In addition to providing six to twelve-hour continuous loops featuring complete, engaging high-definition tours of city attractions as well as art-house, Asian, BBC and other films, the hotelier will be contracting for development of tours of its own facilities via high definition TV. MandarinÃ.‚¬s New York hotel can also transmit guestsÃ.‚¬ conference proceedings or other content across the globe via direct-fiber broadcasting.
Another tack is to be the downloading source for media-savvy consumers. Entertainment will increasingly be acquired via downloads rather than through purchasing CDs, DVDs and other hard copies. The availability of rich content through high bandwidth connectivity is appealing to the teen and young adult demographics in particular and offers a revenue opportunity for hotels who have the necessary bandwidth and licensing arrangements.
IP is also enabling the drive toward personalization. Integration of entertainment devices with property management and customer relationship management applications on the network will allow hospitality organizations not only to deliver made-to-order programming, but to remember those preferences and make them readily available on the next visit: Web radio pre-tuned to the right station, television programmed with preferred channels, favorite artwork featured on flat-panel displays. A guest at Sandals Resort in Jamaica, for example, will see their name on the welcome screen. IP content management will also enable guest messaging, and more controversially, demographically appropriate advertising.
Hospitality organizations are finding content management systems an essential tool to manage their increasingly broad array of entertainment products. In addition to reigning control of their offerings, operators must understand how to deliver content to a widening array of devices, such as handhelds, mobile phones and interactive television.