Fairmont Hotels offers Wi-Fi services

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts have teamed up to offer the hotel’s clientele access to HP’s newest wireless technology — the HP iPAQ Pocket PC. According to one industry observer this is just one example of how wireless technology is becoming more widely available.

This announcement arrived on the heels of HP’s launch of its newest Pocket PC in June of last year, as well as the launch of Fairmont’s wireless LAN almost two years ago.

Starting Thursday, throughout Fairmont’s 41 international locations — 20 of which are in Canada — members of the company’s guest recognition program will be offered use of the wirelessly-enabled HP iPAQ during their stay. The program, called the Fairmont’s President’s Club, can be joined by signing up through the company’s Web site.

The iPAQ, which runs on Microsoft Pocket PC software, allows Fairmont’s guests access to applications including Word, Excel, Windows Media Player as well as the Internet.

The device also includes access to 10Best Inc., a publisher of local destination information and application services, through a Web-based portal.

According to Vineet Gupta, vice-president of technology at Fairmont, this program gives users access to the 10Best Virtual Concierge, a program which offers unbiased, localized recommendations on services including the “ten best” restaurants in close proximity to the hotel.

HP chose to partner with Fairmont for this initiative because of the hotel’s global reach, its ability to capture the attention of HP’s target audience and because Fairmont already had a wireless LAN in place, according to Ken Price, marketing director for the personal systems group at HP Canada.

The two organizations have been developing the framework for their plan for the past year, and other than the fact that it “took some time” to complete, and to figure out how to roll it out across its 40 locations, Gupta said the two companies didn’t face any serious challenges with the initiative.

Gupta added that in terms of overall connectivity, guests see Internet access as the equivalent of access to a telephone. He explained that although it is unrealistic to expect a direct return on investment (ROI) from adding wireless functionality, the convenience it gives the users itself is very important.

Although the idea of ROI has often been a hot topic surrounding wireless LANs and hotspot locations, Warren Wilson, the director of the mobile and wireless business solutions practice at Summit Strategies Inc. in Seattle, Wash. agreed that because it won’t break the bank to implement the technology and it brings in the customers, “hey, why not?”

Wilson said that because of the widespread support that now exists for the 802.11 standard, compatibility is no longer much of an issue. He said it’s “really pretty easy now to use the same program to connect to the network” in different locations.

Wilson said that the question now has become, if a user is on the move, can they maintain a session as they physically travel from a Wi-Fi zone to a cellular zone where there is no longer Wi-Fi support. He added that although this type of technology is starting to surface in products including HP’s Open Roaming Solution, the technology isn’t widespread yet.

According to Wilson, HP’s roaming solution and others like it have a kind of “sniffer” technology that sniffs out the airways for available Wi-Fi connections and displays them in a list form. Although this kind of functionality would be ideal, Wilson said that, for the most part, it’s not overly necessary today.

“Most of the time when you want to do e-mail you want to sit down somewhere and you are probably not moving from place to place,” Wilson explained. “It may be [however] that you need to check e-mail while you are walking from one flight to another at the airport and at one gate you were in a Wi-Fi zone but then there is no Wi-Fi zone as you are actually walking down the concourse.”

The down side with that scenario is that the user would face the hassle of being disconnected and having to reconnect.

“And the whole point is convenience and if it’s not convenient people won’t use it as often or as faithfully,” he noted.

Wilson also indicated that as the “sniffer” technology becomes more popular, paid hotspot locations may have more of a problem keeping its clientele. He used Starbucks as an example of a hotspot location that charges its patrons for use of its Wi-Fi service. Wilson said that it will soon be possible for a user sitting in Starbucks to actually “sniff” out the signal that a near-by coffee shop may be offering for free and allow the user sitting in Starbucks to remain there, but have access to the free network.

Wilson cited technology including Intel Corp.’s Centrino platform where the Wi-Fi capability is built into the system as opposed to being an add-on as a reason why “the period where [Wi-Fi] is really widely available is just starting to arrive.”

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