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

WiFi signal

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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