The next time you check into a business-class hotel, imagine how youd react if told that use of the room TV would cost you $8 a night. Or that hot water would be surcharged by the gallon.
If this seems ridiculous, what do you think about charging for high-speed Internet access? How much is that likely to cost you, and dont you think that it should be part of the basic rate for the room?
Broadband connection is the new amenity. Making it cheap, convenient, efficient and secure is the fourfold challenge that faces managers of public or semipublic spaces. Charging for Internet access, however, is not a long-term solution. By the end of the year, a broadband access surcharge will be enough to make a prospective customer look elsewhere.
Hotel Valencia, in San Jose, Calif., is one lodging that is making a point of ubiquitous high-speed Internet access (increasingly known in the hospitality industries as HSIA). "The trend is definitely migrating quickly, not leaning, toward free HSIA," said Hotel Valencia Group Executive Vice President Matthew Nuss, in an interview last month with Hospitality Technology magazine.
Wired in the rooms and wireless in the rest of the building is Hotel Valencias solution—and seems likely to be the norm soon.
Smaller sites, or those with only a small fraction of customers desiring Internet access, can scale up their Internet offerings with technology such as that offered by Telkonet. The companys PlugPlus system runs high-speed, DES-encrypted TCP/IP over a buildings electrical wiring. A bridge device, the size of my DSL adapter, plugs into any power outlet to provide a claimed access speed "in excess of 7M bps," depending on network conditions. Bridges could be handed out, most likely with a deposit on that hardware, to any customer who requests one, enabling a relatively small upfront investment as a site tests the waters of customer demand.
A PlugPlus gateway couples the buildings power wiring to an Internet access point, without extra wiring throughout the facility. The RJ-45 jack on a bridge unit looks like any other Ethernet port to a client device, requiring no driver installations or other intrusions (with attendant compatibility issues and technical support overheads) on user hardware.
An article in last months issue of Units magazine, published by the National Apartment Association, described the deployment of Telkonet systems in apartment buildings in New York, Florida and Illinois. A major benefit, said one building manager interviewed in the article, is that power outlets are typically installed at many locations in a dwelling or office space, while a dedicated HSIA wiring project would probably install many fewer Ethernet jacks. The power line network thus provides much of the flexibility in arranging a work space that would come from a wireless network, combined with the higher reliability of a wired connection.
PlugPlus confines high-speed data signals to in-building wiring rather than putting that high-frequency hash out on long-distance wires—whose antennalike behavior makes large-scale BPL (broadband over power lines) an obviously bad idea. I havent changed my BPL position since last summer—its still a bad idea. The question remains, though, of how to make the most of wireless network access—while avoiding potential interference—in public spaces.
At Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, for example, free Wi-Fi rolled out this month; at www.wififreespot.com , I find the promise of free Wi-Fi access at a bakery, a bagel shop, a pizzeria and a bicycle rental shop within walking distance of my office.
Many users may like the idea of the HS10 from Canary Wireless. This handheld detector doesnt merely say whether a network is within range, but it also displays the networks SSID, channel use and encryption status. Enterprise network managers may find it useful for detecting unsecured and rogue access points. At $50, its not a casual purchase, but the company is selling all that it can build.
The next time that I check into a hotel, though, theyd better not try to sell me HSIA at extra cost. Clean sheets, running water and all the bits that I can use should be part of the package—or they dont need to leave the light on for me.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at email@example.com.