The Next Generation of Hotel Wi-Fi Is Finally Coming on Line

There are few things more annoying to travelers than paying for hotel Wi-Fi that only works when and where it wants to.

The total tonnage of conversation revolving around Wi-Fi cost has traditionally far overshadowed any discussion about quality. So to better understand what’s involved in delivering a strong hotel Wi-Fi experience, we spoke to technical representatives at Hilton Orlando and New York Hilton Midtown. Both properties have recently installed all-new wireless networks.

When wireless technology came to the fore following the iPhone launch in June 2007, the earliest technology was very basic. Since then, the technology available to hotels in terms of equipment infrastructure, and consumers in terms of their devices, has steadily improved. However, the technology required to really support a 500+ room hotel where guests all have 2-3 devices is only a little more than a year old.

The technical term for today’s most advanced wireless standard is IAEE 802.11ac. The “ac” is the most important part. The Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers Standards Association officially approved the use of IAEE 802.11ac in January 2014. On the consumer side, devices like the Apple MacBook Pro began shipping with 802.11ac hardware in October 2013.

“The technology has slowly improved to the point where the industry is now able to truly deliver what we always hoped would be the promise of Wi-Fi several years ago,” says Gabe Gilligan, SVP of global operations & business development for XpoNet, the internet provider for Hilton Orlando.

The hotel wrapped up its Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrade in January, and the hotel resort fee, which includes Wi-Fi, rose from $20 to $22 this month. For meetings and events, Hilton Orlando now guarantees that if Wi-Fi service goes down for more than 30 minutes at any one time, it will fully refund the Wi-Fi fee.

Gilligan explains that only a few years ago, the earlier 802.11 basic standards, operating in the 2.4 GHz (gigahertz) spectrum, were for Wi-Fi systems often tied into existing copper phone or television lines. Also, the system architecture at the time relied on only a few access points (router antennae) to cover a large area. The wireless technology was never originally intended for large commercial environments.

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