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NY hotel boosts Wi-Fi with wall-mounted switches

Stephen Lawson | Jan. 24, 2012
A five-star hotel room high above New York's Central Park sounds like a nice place to spend the night, but if your iPhone doesn't work, it may seem like little more than a gilded cage.

The Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex 7025 Wi-Fi wall switch now installed in each room links to the hotel's network via one of the five existing wires. But it incorporates four 10/100M bps (bit-per-second) Ethernet ports as well as an 802.11n Wi-Fi access point. So the Mandarin was able to plug the in-room wired Internet line and video-on-demand connection into the ZoneFlex. There is still room to add a planned IP-based system for thermostats and other in-room control systems to the ZoneFlex switch, Heckaman said.

"It just kind of all fit together" to solve several problems at once, he said.

Complaints fell

Fed by the 20M bps or more of bandwidth coming to each room, the Wi-Fi service can now deliver the kind of speed users expect. Complaints about poor Wi-Fi speed went from several per day to zero, Heckaman said.

For smartphone and tablet users who prefer to use their cellular plans, the Mandarin is also working on a plan to improve cellular capacity.

As with the Wi-Fi crunch, new devices are putting pressure on cellular users at the hotel. Today they depend totally on the DAS, because the carriers' outdoor base stations don't transmit high enough to reach the hotel, which begins on the 35th floor of the mixed-use complex. "More or less nothing comes from the outside in," Heckaman said.

While the DAS is good for voice and "mediocre" for 3G data services, it has no provision for 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution), Heckaman said. He's looking ahead to supporting that technology, especially because he expects Apple's iPad 3 to include 4G.

Instead of ripping out the DAS and upgrading it, Mandarin is exploring the possibility of setting up small LTE cells in selected guest rooms to serve that room and several others nearby. Now that the Wi-Fi wall switches are installed, there is one free high-speed IP connection available from each room to act as backhaul from the small cell.

The Ruckus devices aren't necessarily appropriate for every Mandarin hotel, because the New York location stands out for its high occupancy rate, premium room rates and high altitude, Heckaman said. But the company has learned from the rollout and has an upgrade path for Wi-Fi in other locations, he said.

Why charge for Wi-Fi?

Heckaman defended the practice of charging guests extra for Internet access. Tying the guest network to a revenue stream helps when it comes to justifying upgrades such as the one just carried out, he said.

"It allows us to be more flexible in deploying infrastructure and services to meet the demands of the guests," Heckaman said.

Meanwhile, the mobile revolution that jolted the Mandarin Oriental New York may even change the design of hotel rooms themselves, he said. Business and personal travelers with mobile devices prefer to use them in bed, on a couch or in a comfortable chair, Heckaman said. "It's almost like the desk becomes a little irrelevant," Heckaman said. Hotel room designers are now looking to make working spaces less desklike and "more of a common space."


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