IHG Weighs-in on Top Bandwidth Management Challenges

By Gustaaf Schrils, Vice President Global Technology, The Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group | December 14, 2010

Today, technology is changing at lightning fast speed, and the common platform, whether we are using computers, smartphones or HDTVs, is the Internet. Hotel guests have an insatiable need to consume information or connect with others via the Internet regardless of where they are in the world.
 
The new reality for hotels is that guests make their decisions on where they will stay based upon the speed and accessibility of connecting throughout the property and having the same experience they would at their home or office. We know that high speed Internet access is listed as a top-3 amenity and a must-have for guests when they are booking a room, whether it is for business or leisure.  
 
The hospitality industry is challenged to meet the demands of its guests for instant Internet access at any time of the day and for multiple business or entertainment purposes. It may be unfair, but a guest does not care about how your system handles peak user demand periods of the day. That is up to the hotel’s IT staff to figure out and it is an industry-wide conundrum. It would perhaps be easier if guests were using the Internet the way they were a decade ago.
 
In the coming months, there will be more than two billion Internet users globally. But if everyone was just checking their personal e-mail or searching online shopping websites, such as eBay, the bandwidth requirements would be easy to accommodate.  But instead, we now have to support bandwidth-intensive Internet activity such as gaming, peer-to-peer file sharing, streaming audio and video, and soon to be here, IPTV.
 
Even more daunting a task for hoteliers is supporting the bandwidth needs for a guest room with multiple wired or wireless devices connected at the same time. So now the stress on a property’s network is not only coverage but also performance.    
 
So what must hotels do behind the scenes?
First, whether they purchase a single large Telco circuit or fuse several Internet circuits together, bandwidth management techniques must be utilized to control the packet communications traffic and to prevent the Internet link from reaching full capacity which results in network congestion and users experiencing poor performance.
 
Hoteliers have a number of low cost options such as DSL, Cable and Wimax, which should be considered to augment existing Telco wired or fiber supplied Internet service through multi-homing techniques. This also provides the hotel with some degree of redundancy should a circuit failure occur.
 
While the Internet continues to evolve, the issue of security has become a major concern and data protection for guests is paramount for them in their selection of hotels. The hotel needs to have clear and easy to identify SSID or naming conventions so that a guest is assured that they are connecting to the hotel’s wireless network and not to an outside unprotected site.  
 
Finally, it is highly recommended that a hotel considers having an intrusion detection system (IDS), which is a device or software application that monitors network activity and detects malicious activities. It can immediately report incidents to a monitoring agency or your staff so that appropriate and swift action can be taken to protect the guest’s data. Having a safe Internet connection is as important as the speed offered. A blog by a guest whose information has been compromised while staying at your hotel lasts forever and will cause irreparable damage to your business’s reputation. 
 
The technology being used today and developed for tomorrow will continue to make bandwidth a challenge for the hospitality industry. IT professionals in the industry are working to develop innovative ways to adapt to the ever-evolving and increasingly challenging communication and entertainment requirements of their guests. It is a race that has no end for the foreseeable future, but for our guests it is a race worth running to find the solutions that will deliver the positive experience they desire.
 
Gustaaf Schrils is vice president, global technology, the Americas, for IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) and leads the Information Technology team responsible for design, implementation, training, integration and support of corporate and hotel based technologies geared toward improving profitability, productivity and ease of use. He is responsible for annual technology capital and P&L budget in excess of $50 million, and his team is responsible for the day-to-day technology operations for over 3,200 hotels in the Americas.
 
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