Sunday, January 23, 2005

Resorts, hotels and properties getting on the internet

Lately I've been seeing lots of resorts, hotels and other service properties looking around for how to provide their guests with broadband access. So, I thought this would be a good time to publish a public primer on the subject covering most of the items I usually discuss with property owners via phone or in person. This information is a "large hand" overview, please contact Anyion Services for a consultation for your specific location.

There are a couple major considerations when wiring a service property:
  1. How will guests access the system?
  2. What infrastructure, if any, is already in place to facilitate the roll-out?
  3. How will the host property get its access to the internet?
  4. Is the property owner capable of managing their own hardware?
  5. How much budget is available for hardware?
  6. Who will do the initial installation and setup?
  7. How much will the gateway internet access cost the property (monthly recurring expense)?
  8. Will guests access the service for free or will they be required to pay?
  9. Who will provide day-to-day technical support to guests?
  10. Does the property management need it's on independent network which is segregated from guests?
Let's begin this discussion with the 3 basic questions we always need to answer first:

How will guests access your system?
For all the property owners I've spoken to, the initial answer to this question always some version of "wireless". While wireless is a technology that should certainly be considered and is usually part of every installation, it's not the only access technology that should be considered. In most installations, it is also helpful to provide guests with the ability to connect in a wired fashion using a plain ethernet jack (RJ45). This can be accomplished in several ways. Properties which have existing telephone wiring infrastructure in the building can use various flavors of small DSL equipment or Cisco's ethernet over Cat3 product line to provide ethernet drops in guest rooms, remote buildings, bungalows, etc. Especially for remote buildings, if there is existing telephone wiring I always recommend using it instead of trying to do a point-to-point wireless shot. Wireless always requires more upkeep than wired solutions - especially outdoors.

What infrastructure, if any, is already in place to facilitate the roll-out?
As I mentioned above, one of the existing resources that can be leveraged is existing telephone plant wiring. Other items to consider are towers on which antennas can be mounted, tall trees for the same, and outdoor power outlets. When planning a wireless roll-out, one of the most time consuming aspects - aside from mapping the terrain - is figuring out how to power the outdoor access points and antennas. Even for an all indoor installation this can still be a major problem since there are rarely power outlets where you need them - i.e. in attics and overhead crawl spaces.

In campus settings there are often no power drops near where outdoor or eve mounted access points need to be placed... which often means a considerable about of electrical wiring. For all brick or all cement block buildings it may actually be cheaper to pay the power company to drop an additional electrical circuit and meter in certain places on the property instead of trenching, boring or drilling for new wiring.

How will the host property get onto the internet?
This is usually the most difficult question to answer. For city hotels and B&B's this is usually not a hard thing to accomplish since DSL and cable modems are often available in those locations. For resorts, however, it can be a much more expensive and time consuming proposition due to usually being in more remote areas. By nature a resort is designed to be away from the hussle and bussle of a city... which means they are also further away from the technological resources needed to put them on the internet. In many cases this means the only option for internet service at their property is a standard business internet T1. For smaller properties the monthly expense (usually $500-850 per month) can be a bit hard to swallow. And for the most remote properties business T1s may be completely unavailable or cost prohibitive {i.e. over $1200/mo} (especially if the local phone company is a small, independent company). In those circumstances, the properties may only be able to get internet access via satellite or long range microwave service. Note: Properties should use caution when looking at satellite connections. If you frequently host business travelers, they will be unhappy with accessing their corporate systems via satellite because the VPN (virtual private networking) software used to access their corporate networks is mostly useless over a satellite connection due to the latency (response slowness) of satellite connections. Also, expect to spend $250 or more per month for a satellite connection which will be used by multiple people. Starband a similar services are highly restrictive about how many concurrent connections can be made over their network.