Converged Networks in Hotels: A Cost Effective Solution to In-Demand Guest Needs
By Mark Holzberg, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Hotel Technology Solutions, Inc.
In this increasingly competitive industry, a critical point of differentiation in guest services is technology. Are you able to offer the types of digital, Internet protocol-based services that your guests want, including wired and wireless high speed Internet access (HSIA), telephone service, HD TV/video service, and a variety of room controls?
There is a cost-effective solution to providing what guests want today and also accommodating needs that will likely arise in the future. It's called a converged network.
If you could look behind the walls and into the ceilings of many of the world's hotels you would see a 1990s-style "information superhighway" that costs more, requires multiple vendors to fix problems, and makes it difficult to expand or add new applications.
This type of network infrastructure typically has multiple runs of cable side by side going into guest rooms for Internet, telephone and video - a mixed bag of copper and coax each supporting a separate product from various vendors on separated networks.
And then there is also what you don't see, all of which also represent high costs to the hotel owner and the possibility of poor service to the guests: wireless Internet access that originates primarily in the hallways and covers only part of each guest room; large amounts of electricity needed to power the switches and routing equipment; no central management or monitoring; and limited bandwidth (a barrier for future applications such as high definition television).
The solution is not another superhighway but a single roadway, also known as a converged network.
This was recognized by the hotel industry association known as High Technology Next Generation (HTNG) as it sought to study and make recommendations on the use of converged networks in the hospitality industry.
The key benefits to a converged network are cost savings when installing cable, the ability to run multiple applications on the same network (with related ease in maintenance and repair), and the ability to easily add and change applications in the future.
For example, upgrades and expansion are enabled by "plug and play" design, so it is no longer necessary to tear up the walls and ceilings to add cable runs and hardware boxes to accommodate additional IP-based room devices.
Another important advantage of a properly managed converged network is the flexibility it provides in bandwidth, both for current and future needs. Demanding applications like IP television and VoIP telephony require guaranteed bandwidth to operate without disrupting other applications on the network, such as guest high speed Internet HSIA (wired and wireless). Bandwidth is managed and controlled, ensuring both applications and guests always receive reliable service.
One of the principal advantages of a converged network, however, is cabling cost.
Take a hypothetical scenario of a 300-room high-rise hotel - with each guest room providing several voice handsets, a single television, a wired HSIA port, a wired thermostat, and wireless HSIA coverage. To set up and deploy a traditional network, the cost would be about $868,000. In comparison, a converged IP network would cost $140,000 less for cabling and $30,000 less for hardware, for a total savings of approximately $170,000.
While cabling costs and the related benefits are big factors when looking at the advantages of a converged network, they aren't the only factors that make it worthwhile or save the hotel money.
Additional capabilities that could be only imagined a few years ago can provide value-added benefits and savings to a hotel's converged network. These capabilities and components address issues and needs such as 24/7 monitoring, maintenance and repair, low voltage energy requirements, and security.
My own company, Lorica Solutions, and others are actively involved with HTNG to develop solutions that meet the increasingly demanding technology requirements of hotels and the guests that we collectively serve. Based on the unique needs of the hospitality industry as it moves toward converged networks, even more features and applications are now available to improve efficiency and contain costs. Here are a few:
Pro-Active Monitoring and Cost-Effective Maintenance
No one can promise disruption won't happen in any kind of network, but there are capabilities that can be added to a converged network that actively monitor the connected IP devices and detect problems. For example, when we developed our converged managed network product (the Lorica Room Center, which we started deploying in Q4 of last year), we included powerful software that monitors both the network and all of the applications on the network, such as Internet, phone, television and other devices. In-turn, the Lorica Room Center's management node provides real time visibility to our 24/7 network operations center that locates and detects disruption in real-time and seamlessly initiates any repair or remediation.
This hierarchical approach provides efficient out-sourced real-time management and monitoring of the entire IP infrastructure. Hotel managers no longer face the embarrassment of having to explain what happened to the annoyed guests who called the front desk to report the problem in the first place. What's more, since all applications are monitored on the converged network, hotel staff don't have to scurry around trying to figure out which vendor to call for any particular problem or issue - there is truly "one throat to choke", which also makes hotel staff much more efficient. In the case of the Lorica Room Center in particular, if the Room Center needs to be replaced, it can be hot-swapped by on-site personnel with absolutely no IT skills (or tools) backed by remote support staff, saving time and money; the switch configures itself and automatically reintegrates with the network - no manual, error-prone configuration required.
As guests gain increased access to the network, security becomes a more critical issue. A properly designed converged network supports the unique and demanding security requirements of hospitality, protecting both the integrity of the system and your guests' privacy: the snooping of guest data is prevented, wireless security is built-in, and both guests and hotel operations personnel can use the same network, confident their data and communications do not become intertwined. Remote upgrades should allow emerging security issues to be quickly addressed and without the cost of on-site intervention.
The advantages of a converged network to guests: the digital services they require, ready at the flip of a switch. To hoteliers: lower costs and expanded capabilities that create satisfied guests who'll leave pleased by their experience
Is the converged network a road less travelled by hoteliers? Not for long.
Mark Holzberg founded Hotel Technology Solutions, Inc. (HTS) in 2006 to acquire and build a platform to provide a holistic solution to the technology needs of the industry. In 2007 HTS acquired Lorica Solutions to provide the leading technology, an in-depth understanding of the hotel industry and exceptional NOC and Help Desk support. Mr. Holzberg has more than twenty years’ experience running and building profitable companies and business units. He has held CEO and other senior executive positions with companies in the travel and hotel technology vendor space for over fifteen years. Mr. Holzberg can be contacted at 410-757-0586 or email@example.com Extended Bio...
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