August 18, 2003
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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FEATURE STORY:
Marriott Tries Public Hot Spots

While many enterprises are busy deploying wireless technology for staff use, Marriott International is installing the technology as a revenue-generating customer service at about 400 hotels. The hotelier began the effort in January and completed the deployment by May.

Adding Wi-Fi hot spots to both the hotels' public lobbies and to convention floor space was a simple proposition, since Intel donated the hardware as part of its promotion of its wireless-equipped Centrino mobile processor and Marriott already had high-speed Internet connections installed at most hotels for its in-room landline hookups. STSN, which installed those in-room hookups and manages Marriott's Internet service, installed Wi-Fi access points in the 400 hotels and connected them to the existing high-speed network, as well as to the billing system that meters patrons' usage and bills their room or credit card. (Customers who use both the in-room and wireless high-speed access pay separately for both services; there is no combined billing or access package available.) For customers who want to connect to corporate email and intranet systems via a wireless connection, the STSN service supports several virtual private network (VPN) standards.

Marriott is by no means the only hotel chain to offer public Wi-Fi service. Among the others that do are Wyndham Resorts, Summerfield Suites, Four Seasons Hotels, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts (operator of the Sheraton, Westin, and W brands) do as well.

At Marriott properties, the wireless access points connect directly into the high-speed Internet network, along with the in-room connections, rather than through a separate LAN segment, because the only users of the high-speed Internet connections are other guests and visitors. There's no private corporate network traffic to worry about breaching, and Marriott has no plans to provide hotel employees with wireless devices to, for example, update housekeeping progress or provide security staff with voice-over-IP service.

The Wi-Fi installation takes about four days at a large facility such as the San Francisco Marriott, which also serves as a convention center located across the street from the city's Moscone Convention Center, and as little as one day in a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, whose nearly identical designs make installation predictable, notes Rom van der Zee, STSN's account manager for the Pacific Northwest.

Marriott's San Francisco event technology sales manager, Jim Chamberlain, declined to discuss the system's implementation costs, but he says that in high-traffic locations such as the San Francisco and Santa Clara hotels, it takes just a few months to pay back the investment. He estimates that less-tech-oriented locales break even within a year.

Marriott is finding that the human support costs to be low, Chamberlain says.  "We get more folks trying to figure out how to launch their PowerPoint presentation," he notes. If preprinted network setup instructions (available for older versions of Windows only) and live staff instructions can't help customers connect, STSN's technical support staff is available to help customers connect. He does recall that when the Santa Clara Marriott rolled out Wi-Fi this winter (Chamberlain was then working at that facility), he had to contend with technically savvy users who insisted that Marriott change its public access settings to match their corporate preferences, but he doesn't expect that phenomenon to be widespread.

Marriott provides essentially two separate Wi-Fi businesses. One is for individual users, whether guests or visitors, who come into a hotel lobby and sign up for pay-as-you-go wireless access (for $15 per hour, billed to a credit card by the minute, after the initial $2.95 15-minute period). The other is for convention holders, who can choose to foot the bill for access within the convention floor or offer the service to exhibitors and/or guests; this service is billed to the conference organizer, who handles any secondary billing with exhibitors and convention-goers. Chamberlain says that about half of large convention groups are choosing to link exhibitors via Wi-Fi, though usage is less among smaller groups. So far, no one has required the use of wireless, although he says it is often a plus when customers discover it is available. At some point, he expects it will be a standard hotel offering — "like a pillow on the bed."

Some Marriott properties are adding Starbucks cafés, which will pose a challenge for some customers. Starbucks has deployed T-Mobile's hot-spot service in more than 2,000 locations, but Starbucks cafés within a Marriott will use the STSN service instead, and there is no roaming permitted between the two providers, so Starbucks Wi-Fi users within a Marriott can't use their T-Mobile accounts. This highlights an issue I believe will affect more providers as deployments progress, since there are two main classes of providers that also often team up in other areas: venues (hotels, airports, etc.) and eatery chains (Starbucks, McDonald's, Schlotzky's Deli, etc.). It's not uncommon to find Wi-Fi-providing fast-food restaurants in the same venues that will offer their own Wi-Fi services. Roaming agreements seem like a better answer than forcing customers to change service providers based on their location.

Chamberlain also expects to use wireless receivers in Internet- and email-access kiosks that the hotelier is installing across its properties for users who don't bring their computers with them — some will use wired connections if they're in static locations, while others for which mobility is key will use wireless, he says.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at news@it-wireless.com.

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A subscriber exclusive! IT Wireless's Summer 2003 Essential Products Guide is now available to subscribers. The 19-page PDF file contains a listing of key vendors and service providers, with summaries of their offerings and contact information. Categories include wireless network and client hardware, network and client software, and IT services. Download the directory now!

PRODUCT SCAN:
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Proxim has announced the Tsunami MP.11a, an outdoor wireless solution for service providers and enterprises that offers 54Mbps maximum data rates in three separate 5GHz frequency bands for global deployments. It also offers non-line-of-sight capabilities for urban environments with dense populations.

With its RF Lock software module, Aruba Wireless Networks is now providing the ability to detect and disable rogue access points. In addition, RF Lock provides honeypot protection, and association and de-authentication
flood protection. The software works with Aruba's wireless switches. The company has also announced RF Director, a console-based wireless network management system for networks using Aruba hardware.

IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager software now supports Intermec Technologies' dual-radio 700 Series computers to provide roaming that does not require users to log on each time they re-enter a network coverage area.

Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to news@it-wireless.com.


MARKET SCAN:

The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace

Worldwide shipments of 802.11 equipment grew 6% in the second quarter compared to the previous quarter, reports the Dell'Oro Group, and were 69% higher than a year earlier. In terms of radio technology, the new 802.11g devices have had strong momentum, representing 23% of units shipped in the very first quarter they became available. 802.11b devices represented 76% of units sold, while 802.11a and dual 802.11a/b devices together represented just 1%.

The last two weeks have seen several announcements portending broad 802.11 access throughout the U.S.:

  • SBC, one of the major carriers, has announced a plan to deploy more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in 6,000 venues by 2007 and create an integrated Wi-Fi and 3G wireless service that provides comparable broadband experience to customers at home, the office, and on the road. SBC will sell the service under the Cingular label (Cingular Wireless is jointly owned by SBC and BellSouth). For wireless users, SBC will permit roaming with Wayport-hosted public hot spots.
  • Broadband Central has added 11 states to its list of states slated for its Blue Zone hot-spot deployment: Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wyoming. The company had previously announced Blue Zone deployment in 11 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
  • Hughes Network Systems has launched a satellite-based Wi-Fi services that it says will provide complete coverage across North America. The solution includes the network equipment, billing system, installation, and maintenance. Initial rollout of the service will be at RV parks and resorts.


This issue's sponsor: NEC

For advertising information, contact Manny Sawit at (510) 583-0855 or msawit@it-wireless.com


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