Hotel guests can look forward to better Internet access

The future looks bright for business travellers who are weary of expensive hotel or long-distance bills related to dialling up the Internet from a hotel room.

“There are several hotel chains I’ve heard of that are looking at bringing in Internet access into hotels geared to business travellers,” said Gene Phifer, a research director in the Internet strategies area of Gartner Group Inc. in Plano, Tex.

“It’s more of the moderate to upscale business-oriented hotels that are starting it right now. Obviously, that makes sense; it’s a business clientele that’s going to want this.”

One such hotel is the Radisson Suite Hotel in Halifax. The Radisson launched its SolutionIP TCP/IP network on April 7.

Tim Wilson, president of SolutionInc Ltd. — the company responsible for the server behind the hotel’s Internet offering — said the idea is to “give road warriors more solutions and less headaches.”

Wilson told the launch audience stories of his own headaches trying to find local-access numbers, spending small fortunes on long-distance costs, or being at high-tech conferences where everyone is trying to dial up during breaks and there simply aren’t enough phone lines out of the hotel to accommodate everyone.

“Even [on a recent trip to] Silicon Valley, we couldn’t find one hotel that had the kind of services we’re offering here,” Wilson said.

The Radisson is a fairly new hotel, having been converted from an office building four years ago, said Bill Harrison, the hotel’s general manager. Because of the recent construction, network cabling was installed in each room during the building phase. A T-1 line connects to the hotel’s Cisco backbone and, through the SolutionIP Linux-based server, connects to several Cisco 1900 switches in the hotel. Each switch services three floors of the hotel, Wilson said, giving each room a 10Mbps connection to the hotel’s TCP/IP network. Instead of dialling out to the Internet, users connect via the network.

The network was still in beta testing at the time of the launch. Once the billing process is in place, guests will pay $19.95 for 24 hours of unlimited access.

Groups or conferences staying at the hotel have the option of setting up a private network within the hotel for the members of the group, possibly including a virtual private network (VPN) link back to a corporate network, Wilson said. That end of the hotel’s services will be managed by GE Capital and Wilson surmised that pricing would be in the $900 range and up.

“It’s not only access to the Internet, but if you have the facility set up with your company…for an extranet or VPN, then you’re into your internal stuff and you’re just like you’re in your office with your e-mail and calendar, etc.,” said Gartner’s Phifer.

“I think it’s going to be something that really takes off.”

Indeed, the SolutionIP service is also being set up at a new hotel in Calgary, the Sheraton Suites Eau Claire.

IT managers might want to ensure travelling executives are familiar with their laptops and browser configurations. While a booklet in the hotel room explains thoroughly how to change settings for TCP/IP, proxies and other network elements, there is no mention of how to switch the settings back.