If you live and work on the Internet like I do, and happen to travel all the time, then you need a good connection to the Internet. Unfortunately, hotels – both big and small fail to deliver, doesn’t matter at what price.

WiFi signal
photo: Shutterstock / Jiri Hera

Earlier this morning when reading a press release (no link, sorry) from a company called Danmagi, I came across this line:

Wi-Fi is now one of the most essential services a hotel can provide apart from a bed, and yet poor internet connection is on the top 3 list of complaints from hotel guests around the world.

Nah! It is really my #1 complaint.

There was time when all of us road warriors walked around with a laptop and a phone (probably a Blackberry). Now we carry around a phone, a tablet (or a Kindle) and a laptop. I am guessing connected cameras are coming next and a slew of other gadgets with a built-in need for the network. And at the same time we are all going to be using cloud services for everything; listening to music, watching videos, working, buying and ordering food. In such a world, the network (both in terms of stability and quality) takes on greater importance.

MD-WFAPThe common refrain is — well let’s just use LTE. And while we all like to believe that LTE is the panacea to our networking woes, the fact remains that we still are heavily reliant and will be reliant on Wi-Fi, especially when on the go. According to ABI Research, there were a total of 4.9 million hotspots owned by carriers (including those run by the likes of Boingo and iPass) and the total number will hit about 6.3 million in 2016.

Of course, the place where one feels the pain most acutely is in the hotels — who in my opinion are the worst offenders in providing decent and generous connectivity. It is not as if they don’t have a way to quietly tuck in the charges into our room rates! As someone who spends a sizable amount of time on the road checking into random hotels, I can safely say that bad Wi-Fi is one of my biggest complaints.

According to Hotel Chatter’s 2013 Hotel WiFi Report:

  • Nearly two-thirds of hotels offer some kind of free Wi-Fi. (It is hard to say if it really is free if the price of the hotel room goes up a few dollars a night and we don’t know about it.)
  • The standard amount of bandwidth in a hotel with free Wi-Fi is usually about 1Mbps per each room. (I can categorically state that is not really true.)

It doesn’t matter if the hotels (or motels) are big or small. It doesn’t matter if they are in New York or Nashville, the fact of the matter is that both the quality of network connections and the bandwidth available on the network simply sucks. Even in the best of hotels one struggles to 500 Kbps to 600 Kbps. Try watching Netflix at that bandwidth, or in my case the MLB game! I guess our shifting media habits are killing the in-room video-on-demand business, a lucrative sideline for the hotel industry. (When I am in a really bad mood, I am likely to call it a nice racket!)

freewifiSure, I can do some basic surfing and emails on this so-called free Wi-Fi, but that’s about it. And someone who needs to blog — and thus keep up with a whole slew of news and information sources when on the go — it is virtually impossible to use the Wi-Fi for even getting the work done. I almost always take the upgrade option, paying more for more bandwidth only to find that it still sucks. Unless these guys get their act together and build high-quality robust networks, they can’t really expect people to pay up.

For now, I almost always end up using the LTE network (if it is available.) But we are already starting to see that LTE networks are getting crowded and slower and slower. So it is not difficult to imagine things are going to get a lot worse for those of us dependent on-the-go internet.

Like I said — I love the connectivity in the hotels, I just hate the poor quality networks.

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  1. rakeshkottakkal Monday, June 17, 2013

    This is exactly true ! Being an ardent traveler, I have got chance to stay in multiple hotels all along the west coast. 99% cases they had a free wifi but bandwidth is really huge concern. Some of them just don’t work. But I have seen smaller hotels with high quality wifi than their larger competitors. And I hate those pricey ones who charge for wifi, they basically thinks that they have the right to charge for anything and everything as their customers don’t care !

  2. Brad Hubbard Monday, June 17, 2013

    Om, I hear ya but I have to say I have seen an improvement over the last 7 years. However normally I am using the conference connection which is usually separate from the guest rooms.
    Hotels only bring in like 5-10 MBPS for the entire room. Some claim to bring in 20 but when you add up all the rooms on a Tuesday at 5pm during a conference then that gets drained pretty quick.
    It is bad but it’s better than what it once was.

  3. Raf Weverbergh Monday, June 17, 2013

    “Why can’t they offer free wifi” is a common complaint of travellers. But hotel managers aren’t actually as stupid as we think they are. As some blogger once explained (either on Freakonomics, Metafilter, Quora or anywhere in between), in most youth hostels the Wifi is free, because youth hostel travellers there won’t pay for wifi anyway.

    But in a hotel of the class that you likely stay in (catering to business travellers), they know you will pay extra for it anyway and the expense will be paid by your company no questions asked. So why would they not charge for it? There is no downside. They know that you will only compare the list price of the hotels on Booking or Tripadvisor – by adding that wifi charge, they can list a competitive price online which drives business, but still get a decent margin on your stay. It’s the hotel business fighting back against the transparency that was forced upon them by the startups that GigaOm celebrates :)

    It’s also the reason why hotels in France now chare $ 23 for a “continental” breakfast (= watered down fruit juice, stale croissant and frozen butter in one of those sad plastic containers).

    A good way to take this fight back to the hotels would be for Tripadvisor and other online booking sites to maintain standards for displaying hotel room prices. Take the room, add wifi (which is a basic human right by now after all) and price of breakfast and display it like that. That will end those little scams in no time.

    Still won’t help the poor connection, though, which drives me absolutely insane every time.

  4. mikefeinstein Monday, June 17, 2013

    I recently traveled to Japan. I was pleasantly surprised at how much bandwidth I had in my hotel room. I was able to stream TV from my Slingbox back in the states with pretty good performance. I also streamed shows from Netflix (through a VPN) with good performance.

    Maybe Japan has more aggregate bandwidth into these buildings, but I also had plenty of bandwidth right to my room.

    This is just one data point, but worth noting.

  5. Neil Ward-Dutton Monday, June 17, 2013

    Maybe it’s worth considering using Airbnb properties instead of hotels? Loads of them seem to have great wifi available for free – and you get the bonus that you’re staying somewhere with personality…

  6. Manish Malik Monday, June 17, 2013

    I see an opportunity for a “premium” bandwidth provider solely for hotel travelers – on the lines of “We have a partnership with these 400 hotels across the country, and have placed our separate routers with XYZ Mbps connectivity available dedicated for each individual connection. Get all of this for a nice annual fee of $abc”.

    This would probably work around bad underlying connectivity that “mobile” connectivity options have (your receiver is stationary at that hotel; you can optimize and pick-n-choose your ISPs).

  7. Matthew Wheeler Monday, June 17, 2013

    Om – You are your own worst enemy. The proof? “checking into random hotels”.

    When guests will pick one property over another for a difference of $1.00 per night, no, you cannot bury the expense of offering good Internet access in the room rate.

    My company builds and operates guest networks for hotels and I know my customers struggle with the expense – and that expense keeps rising. Granted, we do things correctly and that costs a bit more than doing it cheaply – but bandwidth demand is still increasing by 25+% per year so the recurring expense for bandwidth is often greater than the capital cost for the equipment over a 3 to 5 year period.

    The hospitality industry is just starting to recover after 5 very difficult years. I want my customers to upgrade their networks just as much as you do because we get fewer support calls from networks that are kept current. What we all need is to turn the corner from ‘Do you have WiFi?’ to ‘Can you send me a copy of the capacity report for your network?’

    If hoteliers are asked for it, they’ll all start engaging their technology vendors and partners to document capacity (coverage should not be the issue these days) and provide that information.

  8. Also, sometimes only port 80 connections are allowed. That’s when my HVPN(http://www.happy-vpn.com) account pays off !

  9. Rakesh Agrawal Monday, June 17, 2013

    I stayed at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas. They charge a $25/day “resort fee,” which is supposed to cover Internet, gym, newspaper and random other amenities that are high margin.

    Get to my room to discover that the internet that is included in the resort fee is the 512k sort. Want usable wifi? That’s another $15/day. Ridiculous.

  10. I’m also a frequent traveller. Surely, you can have your own mifi device and you don’t have to think about the quality of the hotel wifi? I live in England, but when I travel to the US, I have a US 4G mifi. I have a mifi in England too. If I visit Europe, Middle East or Asia, I just buy a data plan on a prepaid local SIM, and pop it into my unlocked GSM phone. Simple.

    1. Completely agree. I also bring all my own hot water, air conditioner, towels, and sheets. Simple.

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