More hotels are providing wireless Internet connection "as a rule rather than the exception" but they need to make access transparent to guests, rather than requiring them to log in via Web browsers.
Joshua Soh, managing director for Cisco Systems in Singapore and Brunei, said guests' baseline expectations have changed and more now expect all hotels to provide Wi-Fi access across multiple devices, throughout the establishments.
Soh said: "This translates to a greater need to ensure the infrastructure can support multiple devices per guest, creating a more seamless experience by moving away from browser-based access to policy-based access."
This means access to the Web should be transparent to users instead of requiring hotel guests to log in via a Web browser, he noted.
Albert Tay, general manager for Aruba Asean, said hotels increasingly were offering Wi-Fi service as a rule rather than the exception.
Depending on the physical infrastructure of the hotel and its needs, Tay estimated that the deployment cost of providing wireless Internet access typically ranged from US$20,000 to over US$100,000.
Older hotels tend to have thicker walls which limit signal strength if access points are installed along corridors to provide access across several rooms, he said. In such cases, access points will be installed in each room or alternate rooms and this can affect the overall cost, he added.
Hotels typically will want higher-performance Wi-Fi signal during events or in function halls to cater to a large number of users, said Tay. Deployment in such cases will focus more on performance rather than coverage, and this is achieved by installing more access points with a smaller cell size rather than fewer access points with wider area coverage, he explained.
While installing more access points means more cost for the hotel, he said there are tools to help lower management overheads.
While Tay did not reveal how much it would cost to manage a Wi-Fi network, he did note that with older standalone access points, maintenance is a big issue as these networks are not centrally controlled and managed.
This means IT staff will have to physically look at access points to troubleshoot should there be an issue. With a centralized control system, staff can easily identify and troubleshoot connection errors, he added.
Free Wi-Fi to boost guest loyalty
While providing wireless connection has become a necessity for hotels, some hotels charge customers for their Wi-Fi service as guests are willing to pay for a more reliable connection.
Director and co-founder,
Five Stones Hostel
According to Tay, hotels previously provided free Wi-Fi service as it did not cost much to deploy off-the-shelf access points. However, these were highly unreliable and inconvenienced guests, especially business travelers who would rather pay to have reliable connection than capitalize on free Wi-Fi, he noted.
For some guests, though, free Wi-Fi is considered a necessity.
Rajiv Malhotra, head of marketing for Southeast Asia and India at Hotels.com, said free Wi-Fi access was "overwhelmingly" factored into travelers' decision when choosing a hotel to book.
Citing a recent global survey on hotel amenities conducted by the hotel booking site, Malhotra said 38 percent of travelers said free Wi-Fi was a "must" when choosing a hotel, while 35 percent said it was an amenity which they hoped to see in more hotels.
Another 31 percent wanted free Wi-Fi to become a standard amenity in all hotels in 2012, he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.
He shared that an increasing number of hotels in Asia-Pacific offer free Wi-Fi service, but with limitations. "For example, a guest may receive complimentary Wi-Fi for a limited amount of data, say, 1GB to 2GB a day or a capped number of hours each day," Malhotra said.
Ashley Lim, director and co-founder of Five Stones Hostel, said hotels should provide Wi-Fi services for free. "To me, providing free Wi-Fi is as necessary as providing shower foam in the hotel room," she said in her e-mail.
The Singapore-based establishment provides its guests with free Wi-Fi access, which Lim regards as a "basic amenity" as its guests are usually Internet-savvy travelers who want to share their travels and stay connected during their trips.
"As this is a must-have amenity, we do not charge guests any extra fees for it. In fact, everyone is given a Wi-Fi password upon check-in because it is assumed everyone will use it," she said.
Lim said the hostel signed up for fiber broadband services which costs about S$200 (US$124) a month. Five Stones Hostel also installed additional extenders which cost "a few hundred each" to ensure Wi-Fi signal remained strong throughout the 2-storey hostel, she said.
"Hotels should also think of providing free Wi-Fi to boost their brand image of being establishments that understand their guests' needs," she added.
Malhotra agreed: "Receiving free Internet would enhance the travelers' stay, resulting in increased loyalty for the hotel."
Providing free Wi-Fi access does not have to be a money-losing business. He added that hotels can recover some costs of providing free or low-cost Wi-Fi by charging guests who require higher bandwidth for Wi-Fi speed upgrades.