Yesterday after flying out first thing from London to San Francisco on Virgin flight 19, leaving just before 10 AM London time the weather finally caught up with me again. I had gone two months without a weather delay, but this Sunday the luck ran out, as SFO was under heavy fog.
I wasn't worried though. Southwest has those very cushy chairs, with power to boot, and of course SFO is both a Boingo and T-Mobile Hotspot.
I was able to get a lot of work done in the three hours I sat at gate 23. The speeds were rock solid, and other than one connection error about two hours or so online, I had the Mac and iPhone humming using my Boingo and Boingo Mobile accounts.
What's more I found that many people are unaware that Airport WiFi is available. I mean, yes the business traveler does, but I spoke to a few students about Boingo (and T-Mobile) and explained the pricing and what they can do. I got a lot of "that's really cool" and another comment about "value."
What my man on the street research showed me was that airport WiFi is only perceived to be expensive because of the "day" rate models in affect, but once those desiring connectivity more than once in a while do the math they quickly see that $9.99 for Boingo or $7.95 a month for Boingo Mobile is a great value if they go to an airport or coffee shop more than once a month and need to be regularly connected.
Over the past few weeks I've been in a few places (to say the least.)
Miami Beach and calling anywhere was easy. My mobile phones with unlimited plans on T-Mobile and AT&T made that easy for stateside calling, and for international there was Truphone Anywhere or on my laptop, Skype.
But the real challenge was once I get to a foreign country. There the roaming rates of the USA operators, and those in the EU don't apply to us Yankees. So I the past two weeks I've been using a combination of Truphone Anywhere and Skype, both laptop, and when I'm in the UK on the INQ SkypePhone2.
Let me make it easy. When I use the SkypePhone in the UK, I simply buy a dayplan for data from 3, the carrier. For a one day pass it's .50 pence, or about .70 cents in USA currency. I made a ton of calls last night over Skype. One was a 25 minute Skype To Skype call where I was called as I was awaiting the arrival of my bag at Heathrow. The next few were to family and friends. Total cost. The .50 pence I spent as the Skype Unlimited World Plan and the Skype to Skype calls were FREE.
Now, when in Spain and France there wasn't 3 or a Skype deal, so I used Truphone Anywhere. All my calls were local, and what's more I was able to route calls to my USA Truphone number via always trusty Grand Central and those calls were sent free also.
That's the easy part.
Now for how I returned calls that were left as voice mail back in the USA in my GrandCentral mailbox. That's simple. I've set up a series of DIDs in countries I visit regularly. These are all SIP inbound DID's that route to a Gizmo5 number. That number is perpetually forwarded to GrandCentral, and since they peer with one another (something I had a hand in helping make happen) it is also FREE. All for the cost of a local call. Once I'm in the GrandCentral system, I simply return my calls based on messages being left.
This may seem like a lot of work, but once it's set up it's really easy.
Oh, and next month, when I'm international again, this time with my wife on vacation, I even picked up a SIM for her to use and give her Truphone Anywhere too, and the second SkypePhone to call on when she's in the UK before we go off to the wine regions of France for my twice delayed vacation with her.
For those of us who travel, access to proper Internet connectivity is not a luxury item. It’s not an amenity like a bathrobe in the room, nor is it something to be taken lightly. Let’s face it. We have wine snobs (guilty here), water snobs (guilty here too) and travel snobs (guilty as charged) so why not a bandwidth snob?
I men, for the business traveler, high quality, in room Internet connectivity is an essential.
Over the past three weeks I have gone from great to average to downright poor connectivity. What’s worse though is the lack of consistency between brands in the USA vs. what I consistently see in Europe where in my not so humble opinion, they have not only caught up with us, but also greatly surpassed us in both speed and value per megabyte.
Let’s first look at what I’ve found in the USA
1. Eden Roc Resort by Renaissance in Miami Beach-Amazing bandwidth, offering high quality, low latency, no loss connectivity and they offered both a wired and wireless connection.
2. Hotel Victor, a Hyatt property. Amazing bandwidth, offering high quality, low latency, no loss connectivity. While they only offered wireless, it was T-Mobile and like always, it performed like a champ.
3. South Beach Marriott, Miami Beach-horrible. Slow, bad coverage and some outages.
Now granted, people don’t go to Miami Beach to surf (the net) but those of us who head there for events (like the September Channel Partners and VON conference) will need it, especially in light of how deplorable the bandwidth is at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
4. The San Francisco InterContinental Hotel—with 50 megs already on property and more available on demand, the Wayport powered hotel is my first choice to stay in the city by the Bay. What’s more their options of wired and wireless, ability to secure a private IP address and on-sight IT manager makes this road warrior heaven.
1. In London I stayed at what has become a second home, even at a slightly higher price than some other properties around the City. I’m referring to the Liverpool Street Andaz that includes free Wired and Wireless Internet access in the room rate. The in room coverage is fantastic and the speeds are most always rock solid. Even Apple iTune HD video downloads whiz by compared to elsewhere.
2. Barcelona’s Hesperia Presidente-after a challenge in the room I first was placed in due to a faulty access point I was moved to a similar room near the top floor. My connectivity went from under 20 percent to over 80 percent and my speeds, especially the all -important upload soared to T1 or better through out my stay.
3. Paris’ new hipster spot, Mama Shelter is clearly one of the new hotels that got it right. Every room or every other one seems to have its own access point all connected to a very fast fiber connection. Running speed tests, making Skype calls with the call quality indicator showed a solid 5 megs in both directions no matter where I was or floor 4 or 5. I’m also a fan of the Accor hotels, like the Sofitels and the Pullman upper end properties, as well as even their Mercure properties. Many have both wired and wireless, with the wireless coming from France Telecom’s Orange which means Boingo works perfectly if you have their global plan. You can even use Boingo Mobile accounts too. The difference is that the Mama Shelter Internet access is free, while Accor guests have to pay Orange for access, but it’s worth it.
4. At Heathrow Airport one has the choice of a Hilton, Sofitel and the Yo-owned Yotel. That’s the cruise liner size cabin you rent by the hour or the night. My three stays have always been perfect. You get bed, bath and broadband. Not much in the way of frills, but the cost savings covers round trip taxi rides to Southall for Indian food at Madhus, Brilliant, Gifto’s or Lahore Kahari for amazing Indian food well below London’s prices (put it this way my flight from Paris to Heathrow, the cab rides and the hotel was far less than the Eurostar, a London hotel room for the night, the Heathrow Express or Connect, cabs to and from Paddington, no taxi queues – plus amazing meals where a ten PM reservation is not abnormal.)
At the Yotel I have always experienced perfect call quality over Skype or SightSpeed, and been able to down load videos to watch on the plane back to the USA. Their connectivity is now both WiFi and Wireless.
So, what does it take to make a great connection in the room? First I carry a Belkin wind up Ethernet cord with me. I also travel with two travel routers. My Apple Airport Express and an ASUS. The difference? IP Address blocks. Hotels use either 172.x.x.x, 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x so I have one set for the opposite of the two most common and have no conflicts most of the time. I even changed my 192.168.x.x to a higher starting point when I ran into the conflict once and presto, the conflict was over.
The preference of using my own access point where I can is simple. I can run as many devices as I like behind it, which means Wi-Fi calling off of my mobile handsets, IP calling using Truphone on the Nokia’s and iPhones on the inbound side as well as of course VoIP on the mobile devices.
Now for the property, what does it take? For starters it’s not running a long range DSL clone version over the in room TV network. That may have been good ten years ago when three to six guests per night used in room broadband. Now with usage creeping closer to 70% of in room guests according to hotel GM’s and managers I speak with, the old DSL approach won’t work. Neither does a T1 or even a pair of them.
Let’s do some fast math. If a T1 is 1.5 megabytes per second and you have a 200-room hotel with 100 rooms occupied and 70 rooms using the Internet at the same time you have slightly more than 20k for each room in each direction. Gee, I had a 36.6 modem in 1996. It gets worse if someone is uploading a big file, doing any P2P swarming or if two or three guests are swarming and file sharing. The network just flat out craters. Bottom line. Hotels need more pipe. 20 megs or more.
Now lets look at the routers. A 10 Base T/100 megabyte router divided by 70 is 1 a maximum throughput of 1.42 megs per user max, trying to get to the net…can you spell traffic jam? Nowadays the gigabit routers mean much more flow and go. But many hotels have been slow to the uptake. Next are the wireless access points. Many are just better than consumer grade Linksys APs when what are really needed are the higher-grade products from Cisco and other. The kind that can handle the increased traffic, and the number of concurrent sessions, not what’s in many today.
Most of all hotels need GM’s who understand the issues. Most I talk to are reliant on an IT guy and don’t know the questions to ask. Some chains are mandating certain solutions. For example Hilton mandates a series of providers. End result, the lowest bid likely gets the work. Bandwidth and hardware be damned. I know one property where the bandwidth is so bad that I have to use a 3G card to get over 500 k.
The End Game
Here are some tips.
1. Book a boutique hotel. I’ve found they have the bandwidth and access usually far better than the chains. What’s more they seem to be more helpful to guests with “needs.” Lastly they are less populated by the IT heavy types.
2. Get familiar with a hotel if you travel to the same market area. I’ve pretty much given up the of bargain hunting. Instead negotiate a preferred rate with the hotel. If you visit a market once a month the “home away from home” feeling and the perks of being a regular will greatly out weigh the slightly higher price. But do keep a market centric knowledge of pricing. If you find the rate you’re paying is higher than you can find on the web, bring it to the attention of the hotelier you’ve now befriended.
3. Run speed tests. I prefer to use Speedtest.net and also a secret site from a cable operator. Based on the two, I can see how good or bad things are. The secret site gives me a reference I can count on. Track what you see. If you end up with less than a Meg ever, find a new hotel.
4. Don’t just settle. Make sure your concerns are expressed to the hotel GM directly. He or she has Profit and Loss responsibility. Given them the chance to fix things. The last thing they want to do is lose a regular. Lose to many guests and guess what? They’re job is on the line. If it’s simply a location problem, the can move your room. If it’s a pipe issue, they can add more. A T1 runs between $275-$500 in most parts of the country. If it costs $3500 to get proper pipe, at 70 room nights using broadband per night, for an average of 20 nights the cost per room is less than $3.00 per guest. How? 1400 room nights rented in the month divided into the $3500.00. Of course infrastructure, upkeep and such may bring the cost to twice that, but the payback is there, and besides, it keeps the guest happy, and a happy guest keeps coming back for more.
The bottom line is that hotels still will have travelers and for those who need business grade broadband, the hotels, especially some that offer bargains would be wise to boost their connectivity and become truly “designed for business.”
This is one more way people can stay connected but from a business perspective it provides one more reason for UK customers to think about using BT as their Broadband provider. From a pull through perspective it also means OpenZone and roaming partner customers on Boingo have one more way to ask to connect.
This solution, the BT Business Broadband Hub is ideal for high-traffic retail locations like independent coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, nail and hair salons, or even the kinds of stores which attract a tech savvy and device carrying crowd.
With more light weight and full featured devices having WiFi like the Androids, iPhone, Apple iPod Touch and the hot selling Netbooks, BT is taking the right approach of deploying more hotspots as a way to drive sales of more broadband.
For companies like Truphone, Fring and the rest of the Mobile VoIP crowd, Maggie Reardon's CNET story from yesterday about Mobile phone WiFi usage on the rise has to be like sweet charity. Coming just a few days ahead of the GSMA's Mobile World Congress this kind of news bodes well for the handset manufacturers like Nokia who have been leading the way with WiFi enabled devices.
Beyond simply VoIP, now we're seeing location aware applications like those from client Palringo take advantage of geo-location capabilities tied to WiFi as well. Those types of approaches are very valuable when it comes to events and event maps. For example, with geo-location via WiFi you can get a grid of trade show booths, or inside shopping mall store locations and find your way faster, the same way a GPS device works, but with one less radio. While mobile phones have GPS-A now enabled, that helps, but with WiFi so inexpensive to install and maintain vs. cell towers or other cellular service equipment there's a whole new ball game for companies with imagination in the LBS/GPS world that can take advantage of the rising market of WiFi enabled mobile phones.