Ethernet offers faster way to wire hotels

Providing broadband access to hotels and other multitenant facilities can be troublesome and expensive. That’s why technicians at Wayport Inc. in Austin, Tex., and CAIS Internet Inc. in Washington have been testing a technology called long-reach Ethernet (LRE) as part of an effort to extend broadband capabilities to travelers.

The initiative, announced by San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc., relies on standard Ethernet protocols over a single twisted pair of telephone wires, the same type of connection used for nearly every telephone jack in North America. It doesn’t require the installation of four-pair Ethernet cable, which is generally used for network connections in most corporations.

According to analyst Mike Wolf at Cahners In-Stat Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., only about six per cent of the hotel rooms in the U.S. have guest broadband services. Yet 73 per cent of hotel companies say they would like to install fast pipes to guest rooms for speedier Internet access.

One of the main deterrents to deploying broadband in guest rooms is the wiring, said Jim Thompson, chief technology officer at Wayport. LRE is a way around that problem, he said, because it uses existing hotel phone wiring, making it unnecessary to string Ethernet cable to each hotel room. Pulling cable is labour-intensive, Thompson said, and hotels frequently have to block off rooms during installation.

Thompson said he is pleased with the performance of LRE, which pipes Ethernet on top of very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL).

According to tests run by Wayport, LRE can sustain speeds of up to 5Mbps for 5,000 feet over a single pair of copper wires and up to 15Mbps for shorter distances, Thompson said.

The LRE approach provides an Internet connection that’s potentially 50 times faster than a dial-up modem, said Joe White, chief technology officer at CAIS. Faster access, he added, is becoming increasingly important to hotel guests.

“More and more business travelers access applications such as Lotus Notes through VPNs and the Internet,” said White. Virtual private networks (VPN) enable users to securely access corporate networks by creating an encrypted tunnel through the Internet.

“A cultural change in business users is driving the demand for in-room broadband,” said Mark Hedley, senior vice-president and CTO at hotel operator Wyndham International Inc. in Dallas.

Hedley added that Wyndham has been rolling out Ethernet connectivity to guest rooms during the past year and should have most of its U.S. properties wired this year.

Cisco officials said installing an LRE system costs about US$400 per guest room. Johnson said that although that’s pretty much on par with pulling new cable and installing standard Ethernet, LRE is much faster to install and less disruptive.