It’s likely the entire hotel industry will upgrade to the new Wi-Fi standard with seamless transfers from mobile networks and better encryption, but the cost of installation and guests’ lack of awareness of Hotspot 2.0 is tempering the pace of adoption.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The Wi-Fi standard upgrade known as Hotspot 2.0 is coming to the hotel industry, but hoteliers aren’t rushing to adopt it because they’re not seeing guest demand to justify the expense.
Also known as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, Hotspot 2.0 is a new standard for pubic Wi-Fi networks that streamlines network access by removing the step that requires people to log in to different Wi-Fi networks, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. For hotel guests, this means guests would be able to go from using their mobile devices on their personal mobile networks to the hotel’s Wi-Fi without having to re-enter their authentication credentials every time. Their devices would be able to determine which network is the hotel’s real and secure network and connect automatically.
Hoteliers want to make sure their guests are well taken care of, said Jeremy Rock, president of tech consultancy RockIT Group, and at the moment, it’s not a major detractor from guests’ experience if they need to log in each time to their hotel’s Wi-Fi as long as the service and bandwidth is there.
“It’s a practical industry,” he said. “If there’s a business case for it, they’ll jump on it. There is not a major focus by the industry and initiatives that this is something you have to have. There are other things you have to have. There are other things to focus on.”
Rock said he’s not aware of any guest surveys that say people wouldn’t stay at a hotel because it doesn’t have Hotspot 2.0. That’s likely because most people are unaware of it.
“If you took a poll, how many would know what Hotspot 2.0 is?” he asked. “Too many don’t know about it. There are no major promotional things about it. I’ve not seen it in the news.”
If a company or organization starts to educate the public about it and guests start demanding it, then it’s possible the hotel industry will move faster to adopt it. Technology only gets adopted when there’s a mass acceptance of it, he said.
One of the major benefits of Hotspot 2.0 is the encryption offers users better security, Rock said. The new standard requires Hotspot 2.0 networks to have enterprise-grade WPA2 encryption, making it safer than open public networks.
However, that is only going to be driven by guests demanding it, he said. From a hotel company’s perspective, guests accept the terms and conditions when logging on to a property’s Wi-Fi.
“I think that mindset has to change on the guest side to put pressure on hotels,” Rock said. “It’s a major investment. The security component absolutely could be a game-changer.”
Once the public knows more about Hotspot 2.0 and the improved security it offers, people are going to feel less fearful about exposure to identity theft risks, Rock said.
It makes a lot of sense to have Hotspot 2.0 in places such as airports, Rock said, where travelers are trying to use a secure Wi-Fi network while they’re in the airport for an hour or two. For guests in hotels, a hacker could be anywhere and the guests’ devices could be affected at any point in time, he said. It’s easier to control in airports.
“People log on and log off,” he said. “It’s not the same as having someone staying 24/7.”
HP Hotels is moving in the general direction of Hotspot 2.0, area VP of operations Jason LaBarge said, and it is currently working through the different brands’ rollouts. For example, at its Hilton properties, the company is increasing its access points and installing stronger routers, bringing the standard ratio of access points of one for every two to three rooms instead of one for every 12. HP Hotels has been increasing its bandwidth for the past year or two to keep up with usage, LaBarge said.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re keeping up with customer expectations,” he said.
Moving to the new Wi-Fi standard will be a challenge for properties, LaBarge said. The hardware on-site can’t accept that process right now, he said, and it costs about $125 to $150 a room to update properties to the new ratio, averaging about $40,000 to $65,000 per hotel.
LaBarge said he’s interested to see how the new standard maintains security in the instantaneous hotspot atmosphere.
“It’s something guests are going to be demanding as they see this rolled out,” he said. “Through hotels, restaurants or Starbucks, they’re going to be interested in the security of their data on their laptops and phones.”
Marshall Hotels & Resorts is aware of Hotspot 2.0 technology in the context of connectivity with various Wi-Fi portholes, COO Mike Getzey said. The company is going through a major Wi-Fi grade with various franchise companies.
The seamless transfer of guests using their cellphone’s data networks to hotel Wi-Fi under Hotspot 2.0 requires each system to be capable of the handoff, he said.
“Since any aspect of Hotspot 2.0 would need to be compatible with the in-house systems, we are looking for the franchise requirements to address this subject,” he said.
Connectivity has become a greater deciding factor for guests, Getzey said. Fifteen years ago, Wi-Fi was only viewed as an enhancement to the hotel amenity package, he said, and now it is a necessity.
“That connectivity has reached a point where it is no longer a matter of availability, which is a given, but more a matter of quality,” he said. “There was a time when a hotel could get by with providing a clean room, a comfortable bed and a working TV. That has now been replaced by a clean room, comfortable bed and good quality internet connection.”
Getzey said Marshall has found it’s better to stay in step with advancements as much as possible because technology moves forward at such a rapid pace, and those who do not stay current fall behind.
“Occupancy levels at hotels have reflected the enhancements to Wi-Fi and bandwidth or the lack thereof,” he said. “There is no reason to think the same won’t be true of future trends.”