Lost in (hotel) Wi-Fi: My love & hate relationship with hotel Wi-Fi

23 Comments

Credit: 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.

23 Comments

jamiek88

It would be a major differentiator now for most business travellers.

I want in this order, a good connection, decent bed, late decent hot menu room service when travelling on business especially with the way US flights are now with direct connections getting rarer and rarer thus travel times and arrival times getting later.

A ‘Broadband Hotel’ all things being equal that guaranteed or had a reputation for great connectivity, maybe standard apple tv’s in room for airplay like they all have usb/30 pin Bose type systems now in the 4* hotels.

Budget Hotel Delhi

Nice post. Of course, the place where one feels the agony most acutely is in the hotels — who in my opinion are the inferior lawbreakers in supplying decent and bountiful connectivity. It is not as if they don’t have a way to calmly tuck in the allegations into our room rates.

nilayp

In a hotel, what you are paying for is a bed. WIFI might be super important, but it is secondary to a bed.

When you pay AT&T or Verizon, you are paying for network access, nothing else. Why are you satisfied with substandard service.

“But we are already starting to see that LTE networks are getting crowded and slower and slower.”

Why is this okay?? Why is it okay that a phone conversation on a landline in 1970 is clearer than a phone conversation on a mobile phone today?

Stop picking on hotels and pick on the oligopoly that is the phone carriers. If they did their jobs – we wouldn’t give a rats ass that the wifi in hotel was fast or slow. We’d be complaining about the warmth of the swimming pool instead.

Andrew Lochart

Until hotels get their act together with decent broadband service, there are other alternatives for getting work done over slow network connections, including endpoint web optimization.

Frederik Lipfert

Poor connections drove me as crazy as you guys, which is why there’s an App for this now.
It’s called “SpeedSpot – Test & Find Fast WiFi” (www.speedspot.com) and lets you speedtest WiFi connections and share the results with the SpeedSpot Community which in return gives you access to the test results of all other users, effectively helping you find hotels, cafes, restaurants that actually offer fast connections.

If you’re really sick of slow WiFi – help make it more transparent.

Simon Crosby

Unfortunately in some key destinations, 80% of captive portals will feed you malware. So much for bad connections!

John

Over the last several years it seems that hotel WiFi has been improving. I never stay in the high end hotels that charge for WiFi (and everything else). In the Holiday Inn Express level hotels life is getting better. I have seen a really large improvement at the United Clubs in the last few months. The free WiFi at smaller airports has improved quite a bit as well.

The problem with using LTE is that in remote areas it may not be available.

Jim Maiella

Speed and getting a reliable connection are absolutely the main issues, but it seems like even some major hotel chains do not have their act together when it comes to pricing and device management.

Visited two cities on business last week, stayed in the same very reputable chain. In Los Angeles, the in-room WiFi was free, just had to enter my name and room number and “accept” the service. Few days later, in DC, pop-up greets me with a basic level of service priced at $10 a day.

Over the course of my three-day stay, I sign on with my MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad (this is the new world) and am surprised to find $70 in WiFi charges on my bill. Figured my exposure was a max of $30, so I asked about it and was shocked to learn the way that property charges for Internet access is $10 per day, per device! I expressed my displeasure with this and they agreed to waive $40 of the charges as a “one-time” courtesy because I “didn’t know” that was how they billed for Internet access. And not very great access, at that, to the original point of this post.

I submitted a comment on the hotel chain’s website and got a response saying they are piloting a number of initiatives at their locations and looking closely at guest feedback to ensure guest satisfaction.

So your post is well-timed, Om. Seems like the time has come for hotel guests to speak loudly and clearly about what we need and want related to wireless Internet.

Next week: Gogo.

stefanbrunner

I never use Wifi in hotels or airports for the exact reason: too damn slow. I also do not like the hassle associated with authentication and logging in. In airports, I am not using it because it too expensive, $10 for a two hour layover, seriously? On the corporate account we pay $25 for 3GB or $42 for 5GB LTE. I just have to open up that iPad – no hassle.

Of course, if you go international, you are doomed. At least in Europe you can buy prepaid cards, but in Canada I learned, if you are not a resident with a Canadian credit card, cannot do that. That hotel, next to the BB campus served a wooping 40 kbps, unusable even for simple eMail.

Carl Perry

I spend a lot of time in one hotel. For a couple of years, wifi was spotty…I’d request specific rooms when booking to make sure I had a decent signal. They basically had an access point in the middle of each floor. Finally I sent a note to the manager outlining how they could simply and inexpensively implement full wifi coverage in all their rooms using just a few more access points but arranged differently. A few months later, guess what? They’d implemented something close to my recommendation and every room had a full signal.

The point of this is, instead of being disgruntled or venting on the net, do something proactive to fix the problem. Most managers I know would be thrilled to be offered a simple solution that would reduce the number of complaints and assistance calls.

woyhd

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.

Tysto

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

Rakesh Agrawal

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.

Matthew Wheeler

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.

Manish Malik

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).

Neil Ward-Dutton

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…

mikefeinstein

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.

Raf Weverbergh

“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.

Brad Hubbard

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.

rakeshkottakkal

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 !

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