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September 22

Connectivity is the Key to Smart Hotels

The evidence of how mobile technology has changed the way we live and work is all around us. We can use our smartphones to buy almost anything online, to summon an Uber or Lyft driver, to order food, watch movies, plan and book travel, and consume news. And that doesn’t include a phone’s most basic function—communicating with each other.

Smart phones have also impacted an array of industries—brick-and-mortar bookstores and retailers, taxi services, movie theaters, newspapers and travel agencies—that are working hard to adapt to this new highly mobile, always-connected world by providing better services and experiences to consumers, often by leveraging the same technologies that are contributing to their struggles.

Guests are expecting smarter technologies

The hospitality industry is no stranger to the disruption caused by technology. Travelers now have more choices of where to stay, and can find these options via their mobile devices, whether it’s tracking down accommodations through such online vacation rental sites as Airbnb or booking rooms at smaller boutique hotels that cater to the user experience. Now the larger hotel chains are turning to customer-facing technologies to entice tech-savvy and connected travelers and business users who are demanding a greater level of ease and intimacy from the places they stay. For these increasingly smart hotels, that means enabling customers to check in and check out via their smartphones and enhancing the entire user experience in between.

Travel industry site Skift in a report earlier this year said the ongoing emergence of smart hotels will be among the top 10 trends in hospitality in 2017, noting everything from location tools and messaging to streaming in-room entertainment as technologies that hotels will continue investing in. It’s not surprising.

Hotel guests are a highly mobile and connected bunch. They come in armed with their smartphones and expectations that through those devices, their experience in the hotel will be easy to navigate and highly personal. According to a study last year by Zebra Technologies, 92 percent of hotel guests carry a smartphone, and 40 percent use hotel apps on them. Another 30 percent are inclined to download an app, and 70 percent want to use technology to accelerate the process of doing and getting what they want.

That includes not only checking in and out with smartphones, but using the devices as room keys, for making restaurant reservations and seeing menus online, and receiving discounts and coupons through loyalty programs. More than 80 percent of guests want to use texts and emails to confirm or change room bookings, learn when their rooms are ready or hear about new room options, such as upgrades. Sixty-eight percent of guests want to use their smartphones to speed up the check-in process.

Personalization also is important to travelers. They want to use smartphones and tablets to control in-room TVs, call room service, get maps online and receive help with transportation. In addition, 74 percent appreciate hotels that customize messaging and offers to them, and 66 percent said they have a better experience when the hotel’s associates use the latest technologies. For business users, priorities include booking conference rooms online, emailing meeting reminders and updates and ensuring that wireless printers are available.

The hotels and resorts themselves see myriad opportunities to leverage technologies to improve their businesses processes and their interaction with guests. The survey found that 49 percent of hospitality facilities are investigating ways to use the data they collect about their guests to create better in-stay experiences, which can lead to greater retention of guests and to increased profits. Seventy-four percent are planning to implement location-based technologies within the next year, using them for everything from checking in using smartphones and pushing coupons or discounts to tracking guests’ movements and preferences to what facilities they use, mobile wallets for payments and electronic baggage tracking.

Loyalty programs also are important, and mobile technologies can help with offering discounts and coupons, online customer satisfaction surveys, personalized messages and emails, and rewards for social media likes.

Reliable cellular connectivity is key to these new technologies

Central to all of this is reliable, constant wireless connectivity. Without it, the efforts being made by hotels to not only offer enhanced and personalized guest experiences but also to improve their own operations and their relationships with guests would fall by the wayside.

Guests frustrated by the poor connectivity would go elsewhere, and hotels would have to deal with the loss of revenues and profits caused by both the loss of business and the increased operations costs. A reliable wireless network is critical. To guests, that often constitutes having WiFi available in their rooms and throughout the building to enable them to connect to the internet, and hotels are addressing that desire—77 percent of the hotels and resorts surveyed by Zebra are expanding their WiFi coverage.

But strong in-building wireless coverage has to go beyond simply WiFi. With all-you-can-eat cellular data plans back in vogue, someone is as likely to use a cellular data connection as a WiFi connection. And cellular data is a better option for meeting the growing customer demand for more bandwidth and speed, as WiFi has inherent limitations. From an infrastructure perspective, In order to deliver the needed bandwidth a network backbone based on fiber cabling is critical. Fiber is easier and less expensive than other cabling alternatives to install and can scale more quickly. And it can support multiple wireless technologies, including both WiFi and cellular. Some distributed antenna system (DAS) solutions use fiber to transport cellular

signals, and are optimal to further improve the reach and reliability of cellular signals throughout a facility. Such DAS deployments enable smart hotels and resorts to easily future-proof their networks to support as many cellular frequencies as possible to ensure uninterrupted coverage, support the array of devices being used by guests and employees and add frequencies and carriers as needed. And, maybe most importantly, a DAS can ensure that guests are able to use their cell phones whenever they choose, including doing something as simple as making a call from their room. Because at the end of the day, voice is still the “killer app”, and if a guest can’t make or receive a call from a business associate or family member that’s what they are likely to remember. And they probably won’t stay at that hotel again, regardless of the other cool apps they can access.

The emergence of smart hotels is a natural response to the rapidly growing use of mobile technologies by customers and employees alike. Guests are using smartphones in every part of their lives, and it’s no different when they travel. They expect their experiences with hotels and resorts to be enhanced by technology—to make their stays easier, faster, more engaging and more personalized. And becoming a smart, connected facility not only enables hotels to meet those demands, but also to improve their own operations, keep guests coming in and grow profits. The foundation of all of this is smart, strong and reliable indoor connectivity throughout the building. Without it, all those technologies and devices become little more than expensive and useless toys for guests, who will quickly find other places to stay.

Cell phone users have begun to shift the blame for bad cellular service away from the carriers. Learn more about who they blame and how the problem can be solved by downloading our study.

 

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