The Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC®) is a show that takes place annually in the US and around the globe. It’s an excellent time for hotel owners and operators to converge in one spot to see, learn about, and experience some of the latest technology offered to meet their needs and advise their businesses.
This year, something innovative will be on the show floor courtesy of the team I work with at Meta, the Telecom Infra Project, and their partners.
Please note, this is going to sound pretty fanboy-ish, but I think once you read it, you’ll understand why it’s so easy for me to get excited. After all, I love what I do, and I passionately believe in what I do. That said, let’s dive in.
What Matters in the Hospitality Industry
In my opinion, based on working in this industry throughout my career, there are two things that hospitality operators hold dearly: Guest Experience and Cost – probably in that order as well. Let’s start with the ladder of the two, cost.
The Cost of Hospitality Technology
The cost of hospitality technology will always be a necessary burden. The tech you need to support your guests is constantly growing as they bring more devices with more requirements for more capacity of your networks. That capacity costs money. The equipment costs money. Technology refreshes cost money. Maintenance fees, IT support .. it all costs money. However, there’s no way to increase the price that you offer your services for to cover those costs without facing customer backlash.
Dealing with Total Cost of Ownership in Hospitality Tech
The total cost of ownership of technology is key to factor in. The cost of the equipment is an essential part of it, as is the ongoing maintenance of the equipment, the ability to have features that align with the changing customer requirements, and inevitably that upgrade that will need to take place. The problem, for the most part, is that once you choose one vendor of WiFi technology, you’re pretty much locked in for life unless you’re willing to rip and replace all of their equipment every time you upgrade or risk having a segmented network that doesn’t allow for easy things like roaming, security, or simple guest connectivity. Enter OpenWiFi.
OpenWiFi allows you to choose from multiple device vendors and have them all work together. There are numerous wireless access point vendors and network management controller systems – there’s even an opportunity of downloading your own controller at no cost and customizing it to meet your needs. And, considering that it is open-source, the time to have new features introduced for the platforms or support for the latest hardware is significantly reduced. There is a community to support OpenWiFi, with multiple hardware vendors competing every step of the way for their products to be seen and used.
So when looking at that upgrade, you don’t have to rip and replace a single vendor. You can gradually upgrade as needed throughout the property one step at a time. If one vendor makes a great wallplate AP and another makes one perfect for outdoor, use them both! If there is a heavy-duty wireless AP needed for convention space, use that too! You’re no longer limited to whatever your vendor has in their catalog, what they can order or have in supply, and you’re not tied into their maintenance, support, and annual contracts.
Reducing Costs While Innovating Hospitality Wi-Fi
By being able to choose best-in-class WiFi access point products, you have the opportunity to fine-tune your network when and where it is needed to address customer experience issues on the fly, without breaking the bank. Because the vendors that are partners to OpenWiFi are commodity wireless AP manufacturers, their pricing is magnitudes less expensive than some of their counterparts. OpenWifi hits your bottom line while driving your ability to serve customers and innovate. OpenWiFi checks the boxes for cost savings, innovation, and driving the most important thing to your business: incredible Guest Experience.
What Matters Most: Guest Experience
Guest Experience is vital when working in any customer-facing service industry; your business is making sure that your guests are satisfied with your product. If they aren’t, it affects every aspect of your operation because it can immediately affect your bottom line. Low experience satisfaction turns into low numbers of visitors, which turns into smaller profits and eventually no way to continue your operation.
Once you decide to take the leap and save money by offering the latest technology to drive your satisfaction, the next step is understanding how that affects your user experience. There are ways to design WiFi networks today that are amazing … if you’re a nerd. Few tools allow you to design for the user experience that are easy to understand and present the data in a way that makes perfect logical sense .. to an owner or operator. We’re showing some of that off at HITEC 2022 for the first time.
How Wi-Fi Networks are Currently Designed
Traditional WiFi design tools give you a top-down approach to designing a wireless network, and they are rarely used by actual operators and owners of hospitality businesses. Usually, you have a trusted partner or service provider that creates all these magic heatmaps for you and shows you what you assume looks like good coverage. The goal is to show you that according to math and science, if you put something somewhere, the WiFi coverage will look like the map when installed. Once they have completed the installation at the agreed locations, they walk around the property with a gizmo attached to their belt and collect signal readings to validate what they’ve done. Listen, nerds, I know I’m oversimplifying this, and I’ve done it hundreds of times, but that pretty much the gist of it 🙂 At the end of the day, you have this jpg file showing you what your working WiFi should look like. But is that always accurate? Even if it is, does it give you a good feel for the customer will experience? Let’s change it up a little bit and innovate, shall we?
Reimagining Hospitality Wi-Fi Design
The demo in the Telecom Infra Project booth at HITEC 2022 gives you a couple of things to experience. For starters, partner vendors have the hardware to hold, touch, feel, and imagine installed at your location. Secondly, instead of drawing you a heat map showing how well it will work, we’ve taken it a step further.
Working with a development team, we’ve created a way that you can see a hotel environment (taken from an actual hotel build), rendered it in virtual reality, and inserted WiFi access points so that you can virtually tour the room and see where your WiFi signals are. There are two ways to experience it; one option is these little orbs that are colored to match the signal strength, and the other is a gradient pattern overlayed on the room floor to show signal measurements.
As you move around the room in this metaverse-enabled environment, you can get a good sense of what the WiFi looks like. It’s pretty awesome, but how do you know what the customer experiences?
Visualizing the Customer Experience
As a demonstration of experience, if you look at your right wrist in this virtual environment, you will see a video playing that is representative of the quality of the video you can stream wherever you are standing in the room. Instead of staring at colors, gradients, signal level readings, or bars, we wanted to give you a way that shows you what your guests will experience. We collaborated with a hotel owner/operator in the industry to understand the best way to have this make sense to the crowd we were going to be in front of. To us, this made perfect sense.
You can choose between generic industry-standard APs, consumer APs and, of course, our partner vendor OpenWiFi APs in typical installation locations, such as the ceiling or wall plate, to see how products and placement make all the difference in guest experience.
Dogfooding OpenWiFi for VR at HITEC
Another remarkable fact: the entire system in our booth runs on OpenWiFi APs and controller systems, impressing the fact that OpenWiFi is not just a great way to save money; it has incredible technology and simple management built for the future. Our Metaverse-ready booth network can support even the most innovative uses of wireless technology today, such as VR/AR, ensuring that when your guests need it, your network is ready for them!
Come check it out!
I think what we have put together for our HITEC booth is intuitive, innovative, and creative. Working with the team, we wanted to put something together that drove the point that you can do some incredible things when you collaborate with partners, vendors, and the insanely creative community.
This is truly community driven
I want to give a shout-out to the wireless community as a whole for continuing to drive innovation in design and engineering. Anyone who knows me knows I have passionately advocated for using virtual and augmented reality in WiFi design for years. This year at the annual WLPC event in Phoenix, following Kelly’s innovative presentation a few years about, Timo Sass showed off the foundation of what we were able to build upon for the booth experience. If it wasn’t for WLPC being the common thread to connect us all, who knows how long this would’ve taken. Keith, thanks for always keeping the lights on at WLPC and to the entire community for creating presentations, voting on content, and being there to support it.