iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

Summary: Video content streaming from your home from services such as ITunes, Netflix and Amazon Video has now become a reality for bleeding edge technology adopters. But forget about it if you're on the road.

TOPICS: iPad, Mobility

Video content streaming from your home from services such as ITunes, Netflix and Amazon Video has now become a reality for bleeding edge technology adopters. But forget about it if you're on the road.

As some of you may know, when I'm not writing this column, I'm frequently on the road, working for a large global technology delivery organization. As such, I spend a lot of time in and out of hotels.

My iPad has become my best friend for off-hours entertainment and content consumption when in my hotel room, provided that I've pre-loaded it with movies and TV and books to keep me satisfied.

Generally speaking, In terms of Internet access, I'm usually happy with the quality of service from the major hotel chains, such as Hilton and Marriott provided I'm doing things that are not particularly bandwidth intensive, such as email and web browsing.

I also use my iPad quite a bit at home, but my usage behavior is quite different because my entire house is saturated with 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wireless-N and Wireless-G signal and my broadband connection is an Optimum Online Ultra link with maximum sustained downloads of up to 101Mbps and 15 Mbps uplink. I think it goes without saying that this is on the extreme edge and absolute best case scenario of what most home broadband users are capable of getting today.

That being said, I never have any problems at home with the iPad's (or Roku's) ability to stream from NetFlix, because only a 5Mbps connection is required to reliably stream 720p compressed content. So even if you have a 10 Mbps or 20 Mbps cable broadband, or even as little as 6 Mbps ADSL, it's quite doable.

But from a hotel? Forget about it.

There are a number of issues with content streaming from hotels, but lets start at the source, the iPad itself. Many people don't realize that while the current generation iPad is a dual-band Wireless N/G capable device, the implementation and transceiver built into the unit is considerably less powerful than what you would find on a typical laptop.

The iPad has a maximum sustained throughput of 65Mbps, which while more than enough for HD content streaming from within your home from an iTunes-enabled PC or a Mac, and more than what is needed to stream Netflix or from iTunes' new cloud-based streaming services reliably (functionality that was only just introduced with the Apple TV, but presumably will find its way into iPad in the near future) is still a best case scenario provided that your wireless infrastructure is providing strong enough signal saturation and your broadband can provide you sufficient quality of service.

The iPad's low-power, single antenna dual mode transceiver was presumably engineered by design, in order to conserve battery power. In a home, it's not so much of an issue because you have many options to improve home Wi-Fi reception -- add more bridges, access points, repeaters, antennae, what have you.

But in hotel environments, the iPad's weak transceiver is a problem, because unless you have an actual access point in your room (such as being able to bring along your own Airport Express, which I do, provided a wired connection is available) you're at the mercy of whatever signal strength you can get from access points placed in the hallways or on a floor-by-floor basis, if you're lucky.

I don't want to beat up on the iPad too much because I expect that other Tablets, once they have been released, are likely to have similar issues, because they will face similar design challenges. But even provided you have a strong signal in your room, that's not going to guarantee you'll be able to stream movies On-Demand. In fact chances are you probably can't.

What most hotels don't tell you is that they can't guarantee the quality-of-service necessary to stream anything faster than sustained data rates of 500Kbps, and they typically outsource their connectivity to 3rd-party services that specifically service the hotel industry and actively throttle connections on a proactive basis.

So you need better than 500Kbps? Then Forget it. And sustained connectivity at 500Kbps is a best case scenario when you have a top name, 400 room hotel in a major city at 80 percent or more occupancy and every business traveler wants to web browse, email huge PowerPoints back and forth from 8PM to midnight, let alone try to suck down an On-Demand stream of the latest episode of Big Bang Theory or CSI from their SlingBox at home.

Even if it's a vacation hotel during the off-season, unless you're in a very connected country like Japan or South Korea, It just ain't happening. And even if you have the connectivity if you are outside the country, there are numerous issues related to localized viewing rights that might prevent you from streaming the content from Netflix or another provider (Hulu, network television providers websites, etc) in the first place. Some domestic hotel chains and their 3rd-party ISPs will also use the unscrupulous trick of putting you behind a non-US IP block which will stop streaming from most US content providers cold.

With more and more business travelers wanting to stream content from their hotel rooms, what's the solution? In the future, 4G wireless services such as LTE being rolled out by Verizon will allow for sustained data rates from 5Mbps-12Mbps which will be more than sufficient for streaming, if you've got an iPad or other device connected to a portable LTE-equipped femtocell like a Novatel Mifi. But the costs for doing so haven't been revealed by the carriers yet, and tiered/metered data plans rather than all you can eat for $50.00-$60.00 3G per month like we're seeing now are are likely to be costly.

In all likelihood, if business travellers want streaming, they'll have to pay to the nose for it to their mobile providers, or the hotels are going to have to enter agreements with companies like Apple and Netflix to cache popular content on premises closer to content distribution networks (CDNs) in order to stay competitive. But if you want it today, don't even think about it -- side load your iPad or Notebook PC/Mac with what you need to watch before you leave on your trip.

Have you had problems at hotels with streaming content on your iPad or laptop? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Not an iPad issue

    Your entire rant is pointless because you actually have the clues to why this won't work.
    Fact #1- The iPad actually allows the streaming. There is nothing preventing it from working .... as long a you have a decent bandwidth for the streams.
    Fact #2- The bandwidth in a hotel is usually horrible because you are sharing one wifi router (or two if you are lucky) with hundreds of rooms and a signal reliability limited by the location where you room is (how far it is from the wireless router).
    Fact #3- Plugged-in laptops have the advantage of having unlimited power usage and can afford to use as much power as it wants for a wireless connection. iPads and portable products a like don't have that luxury. They have power limitations due to battery life.

    This is not an issue of the iPad not doing this or that. In fact, you said it yourself, you already proved it can do what you want.

    You complain is about the limitations of the current technology base, limitations you fail to understand/accept, although you know the reasons yourself.
    • Correct...

      Although what is interesting is that Perlow if you believe word one of his blog has become addicted to the iPad.
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

        @zkiwi One is entitled to like something while simultaneously be able to criticize its shortcomings. I don't see what's so hard to believe here.
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

        @jperlow: Is this even a shortcoming? As you said, they do it for a reason - that is if they did it differently it would be worse. So sure, killer WiFi range sounds nice, but poor battery life would spoil the fun. On balance, they have it right.

        I also wonder if the problem isn't just a lack of actual bandwidth a lot of the time anyway. This does sound more like a problem with typical hotel WiFi than the iPad. You don't think the hotels would rather you watched their (paid) movies than streamed them over the Internet? Yeah, I'm a cynic.
    • I agree . . .


      I think that streaming is highly overrated anyway, but when I'm traveling, I don't rely on the Internet. I have several of my favorite movies on a portable drive, and watch them on my Company-provided laptop . . .

      At hotels, bandwidth is always an issue, and with some of the hotels, they don't have the most secure network, either (or they have it really restricted in such a way as to make it very hard to even get any real work done).
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

      @wackoae You should consider reading the entire article first before replying. :)
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it


      Fact 1
      I had an iPad for a week for testing and I couldn't get any sort of consistent results from its WiFi connection except for being generally slow. This was using my office WiFi, only 2 meters from the aerial.

      Fact 2
      No multitasking really does suck. Poking an unresponsive iPad while it's tryuing to download a file is a common frustration. Almost as bad as most web sites not working due to a lack of Flash.

      Fact 3
      Actually entering any sort of information is a joke and the magnifier for moving the cursor is the punch line. Given the size and weight, it's faster typing on an iPhone.

      Fact 4
      Apple fanbois will always act as apologists for obvious problems with any Apple device.
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it


        I'm using the same router Jason is with a 20mbps connection in an apt. I get wildly inconsistent results from it when trying to stream video. Sometimes it goes great, other times it can play a 300x250 youtube video without spending 5 seconds downloading for every one second of video. How close I am to the router doesn't seem to matter much.

        My guess is that it easily gets overwhelmed by other wireless activity.

        It's really my only major gripe about the device.
      • The author put the iPad in it to drive...

        @tonymcs@... page hits. The problem described is not an iPad problem. While it is true, that if you are at the end of the hall furthest from the Access Point Antenna, then the relatively low powered antenna of the iPad might prove challenging.

        Streaming content from the web in this case, will always be problematic, as the man said, 500Kbps, even in strong signal areas, are going to effect iPads and laptops the same way, regardless of the wireless card.

        And like with Windows, there are always features coming in future releases. November is the expected drop date for iOS 4.2 for the iPad, which means all of the features of iOS 4 will be available on the iPad, including multi-tasking.

        As for entering information on it using the multi-touch keyboard, it will prove to be just as challenging on the Samsung Galaxy slate coming out soon. If you need to enter any large amount of text, especially for larger e-mails, you are better off carrying with you either the keyboard dock, or a BT Keyboard.

        As for flash, I see no need to kick the same dead horse, other than if you want it, wait for the Galaxy Tabs, if you don't need, want, or care, than buy which ever product appeals to you best, whether that is Android based tabs, or iOS devices, or full fledged laptops.
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

        @tonymcs@... You will be happy that ther are many other products that meet your high standards better then those required by us "Apple fanbois."

        I wonder if employers still evaluate attitudes like yours as we did.
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

        @tonymcs@... whos apologising. The design of the iPad made many trade offs. For example, a smaller battery would have made it lighter but then it would not last as long between charges. You see, when you sell a product you need to consider what is important to a consumer. Is battery life important or price or screen size or network speed or reliability and so on. I think Apple did a lot of research and produced a well rounded product. Sounds like your just trolling or sour!
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it


      Wackoae, before you go off on a rant about other people not understanding things, maybe you should read what they are writing first.

      Every "fact" you list is quite plainly listed in the original article.
    • Not only that, but a little analysis of his numbers shows

      that as long as the iPad gets 8%, that's right EIGHT PERCENT of its maximum throughput, that's sufficient to stream a netflix movie without stuttering or drops.
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

      I have not had any problems with my laptop and Comfort Inn. I strean anything I want.
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

      @wackoae << Appropriate name. What is your problem?? This is an article for information not a political advertisement.

      Has your life experience beens so sad that you have lost, or never had, all perspective or understanding of civil communication??

      Thanks, Jason. For those of who also travel and were thinking about using our iPad (particularly with kids) as you describe .. good alert.
  • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

    Sounds like you should have a real laptop when travelling. Once again, the iPad is proven to be just a toy for rich people.
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it


      Streaming video from a hotel is equally hopeless with a laptop btw.
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

        @SlithyTove most hotel have wired connections that are likely to be faster than wi-fi
      • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it


        Many hotels do have wired connections which are faster. Still not remotely fast enough to stream video with in my experience. Email and light web browsing at best.
    • RE: iPad content streaming from your hotel? Forget it

      @Droid101 A "Real" laptop is only helpful if the link the hotel is providing doesn't become saturated. It really only adds the additional signal strength needed to communicate with the AP, but if the pipe going out is still going to throttle you or become over saturated, it doesn't matter. Laptop or iPad, you'll want to pre-load the content you want to watch,