Since their initial emergence within the hospitality sector, IoT-based devices and services have been hailed as a game-changing opportunity to enhance efficiency and guest experiences. Articles, case studies and white papers are widely available and routinely published that detail how such solutions can instantly personalize offerings, ensure speedier service and slash business costs.
However, less discussed is the type of underlying infrastructure a hotel needs in order to effectively deploy these newer technologies. While the capabilities of IoT-based solutions are wide-ranging and virtually limitless, all nevertheless share a universal need of requiring a robust network access to function. For the unwary hotelier, this requirement can often spell disaster for the success of IoT strategies if a property’s online access capabilities are not up to the task.
To prevent a business improvement from otherwise turning into a source of guest frustration and avoidable expense, industry professionals need to recognize that implementing adequate online infrastructure is just as important as identifying the appropriate IoT solution. While a property’s existing network may be able to handle the number of devices that are currently connected, this will undoubtedly change as more and more devices and systems go online and compete for bandwidth resources. Hotel businesses as a result, need to begin planning their IoT roadmap strategies to include a focus on how their network infrastructure must evolve to keep pace with the growing prevalence of IoT technologies. To ensure success both now and in the future, hoteliers should begin to familiarize themselves with the various connectivity options and protocols in order to determine which is best suited to address their specific IoT needs.
The Case for Wi-Fi 6
With a seemingly never-ending array of devices and systems competing for Wi-Fi signals and bandwidth, Wi-Fi 6 has emerged as the latest wireless network standard promising vastly superior performance over previous iterations. Also known as 802.11ax, Wi-Fi 6 comes equipped with speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps, 3.5 Gbps faster than Wi-Fi 5.
While such a speed enhancement may largely go unnoticed by guests simply streaming or accessing emails, Wi-Fi 6’s true benefit for hotel operations is its ability to provide high-performance and reliable connectivity for a multitude of devices connected to the same network. As many hoteliers have no doubt experienced firsthand, more devices connected to a network ultimately translates into overall slower speeds and network congestion. Wi-Fi 6 resolves this issue by ensuring that each device or system remains up-to-date with the online data necessary to function. For hotel environments, this ability can mean the difference between installing smart thermostats that can instantly detect and adjust temperature based on room occupancy, or dealing with endless guest complaints over thermostats that won’t automatically update to ensure more comfortable conditions.
With Wi-Fi 6, another benefit is substantially longer battery life and less power usage for connected devices. This capability can prove crucial for hotel businesses deploying a multitude of IoT solutions and services which otherwise, would translate into higher energy costs and an increased workload for hotel staff who now need to add checking and replacing batteries to their daily responsibilities. Wi-Fi 6 minimizes these issues with a new technology known as Target Wake Time. With this feature, a hotel’s access points can place device Wi-Fi antennas in sleep mode, with each antenna only being reactivated when data transfers are necessary.
While the advantages of Wi-Fi 6 are substantial, there are some potential drawbacks that hoteliers need to consider before deploying the standard for their IoT strategy. One issue that operators of larger-sized hotels or resorts may encounter involves sufficient coverage for all onsite areas. Like its predecessors, Wi-Fi 6’s signal range limitations make it ill-suited for outside areas, while obstructions and competing signals between an access point and a device can lead to connection drops and slower speeds.
Where 5G Comes into the Mix
Another option that hoteliers have to support their IoT-based solutions in addition to Wi-Fi 6 is 5G, the fifth generation technology standard for cellular networks. With 5G and similar to Wi-Fi 6, hoteliers gain a significant increase in speeds, bandwidth and reliability while minimizing latency. Yet while both technologies share the same goal of providing fast connectivity for a vast number of devices simultaneously, there are several key differences between the two that hoteliers need to take into account for their IoT strategy.
For example and as a cellular-based technology, 5G’s extensive range capabilities mean that it is ideal for providing internet access to both indoor and outdoor areas. As with other cellular communication standards, 5G is carrier-based, with each operator offering service on licensed spectrum bands. This notably minimizes any potential signal interference that can lead to a lapse in performance and responsiveness for IoT-based platforms. The trade-off for these advantages, however, is that 5G tends to be considerably more expensive when implementing a cellular-based network compared to traditional Wi-Fi alternatives.
5G has also made several impressive improvements when it comes to data security and privacy. Featuring 128-bit encryption, 5G is the first cellular network standard that can prevent hackers from mimicking cell towers to steal information from personal or business devices. Armed with advanced encryption algorithms, 5G is notably able to scramble all data including location and identity as it makes its way from a device to a cell tower. While the hospitality industry continues to struggle with the threat of cyberattacks, the growing presence of IoT-based technologies does have the potential to increase exposure for the unprepared hotelier. Hospitality businesses should therefore always take a close look at the security capabilities of whichever type of network infrastructure they wish to use for their IoT devices and systems. Only then can they experience all of the benefits that IoT has to offer without placing their property or guests at increased risk.
Selecting the Right IoT Network Infrastructure for Your Hotel
As with IoT-based solutions themselves, selecting the best suited network infrastructure to provide each device with fast and reliable connectivity will often come down to specific business goals, needs and limitations. For example, Wi-Fi 6 implementation may make sense for a large or midscale property expecting to provide connectivity for a large number of IoT solutions as well as guest devices. Such an upgrade on the other hand may not be necessary or worthwhile for a small boutique property with just a handful of guestrooms. For some properties, it may make sense to use a combination of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G where IoT devices are extensively used both within interior and outside areas. With the risk of making the wrong decision potentially leading to a costly network overall, hoteliers should seek out a technology provider they can trust and who can provide guidance over precisely what sort of infrastructure is needed to ensure a successful and painless IoT adoption strategy.