Sandman Inn Goes Green with Solar WiFi Solution

By Jason McCarthy, General Manager, Sandman Hotel | April 30, 2009

Vacationers in Santa Barbara have about a hundred different hotels to choose from. The Sandman Inn, which has existed on upper State Street for generations, needed more than just price to differentiate itself from the competition. Installing free wireless internet would appeal to a sizable number of clientele, but there was another market segment ripe for cornering at the same time: the green consumer.

The Sandman deployed a wireless mesh network by Meraki, Inc., powered in part by solar energy. Completed for less than a fifth the cost of competing technologies, the eco-network at the Sandman Inn will debut on Earth Day as the summer high season heats up.

The solar WiFi system The Sandman Inn deployed differs from other leading hospitality networks in its use of mesh networking technology, self-powered hardware, and a fully-hosted management platform. This saves thousands in overhead costs for hardware, wiring, energy use, and labor.

With 113 rooms spread over nearly a half mile square, The Sandman Inn has grown in its current location since the 1950s. Its infrastructure reflects the challenges of older construction: few conduits, and very little wiring beyond basic electrical. How, then, to bring wireless to hotel guests without breaking the bank laying expensive copper or hiring costly electrical contractors to extend the power to the far corners of the property?

Sandman hired Patrick Seife, a technology consultant, to solve the conundrum. Meraki's wireless plug-and-play technology allowed Seife to install the network himself in just a few days. With the Meraki Wallplug (essentially an access point that plugs directly into a guestroom's power outlet) no additional wiring was needed.

Cost effective
However in one of the outlying buildings, the signal was weak and there were no electrical conduits within range. It was cost-prohibitive to extend the electrical outlets to the roof. Solution: Solar.

The Meraki Solar is a powerful mesh repeater that powers itself by using the sun. No wires, cords, or costly electric bills.

For the end-user, the solar WiFi system works precisely the same as a wireless network, and supports all of the same demands and applications. The difference at the Sandman Inn is strictly the bottom line. The network hardware requires very little technological expertise to install and manage Ã.‚¬"making Meraki very cost-effective.

The initial cost of installing the entire network came to about $4,000, or 1/5 the next closest vendor's estimate. And with fewer pieces of hardware to be powered and maintained, the cost of operation of the network is negligible. But the return on the investment is all in how Sandman leverages its unique technological advantage.

Now the Sandman Inn can boast not only high-quality wireless internet in all of its guestrooms, but it can advertise that it is on the leading edge of green technology. In Southern California, where everyone seemingly drives a Prius and sips wheatgrass, that's a major selling point for many potential customers.
 
Jason McCarthy has been general manager at The Sandman Inn since 2000, and has been with the hotel's parent company for 20 years. He is the past president of the Greater Santa Barbara Lodging & Restaurant Association (GSBLRA), a member of the CH&LA's Education Committee.
 

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