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While most of us are busy just trying to keep up with the Joneses and their high-tech gadgets, businesses are focusing on staying a step ahead of those pesky figurative neighbours.

Saskatoon’s Travelodge Hotel has scored one for the team, as it has become one of the first hotels in the Prairie Provinces to provide high-speed wireless Internet access to its guests, according to the hotel.

Giorgio Piotto, the hotel’s managing director, said the decision to go for wireless access was for practical reasons as well as for maintaining a competitive edge.

“One reason was the age of our building,” Piotto explained. “It was built in 1972 with concrete and has had additions made in 1977, 1980, 1984 and another just a few years ago. It became a problem to physically hardwire the building. So, if we wanted to have high speed Internet, we could probably only wire half of the building. At the end of the day, wireless was the only way to go.”

The implementation of the high speed Internet access to the hotel was completed in conjunction with Shaw Communications and 3Com Canada. Shaw Communications is responsible for providing high-speed Internet access to the hotel, and 3Com distributes the connection with its wireless LAN solution and provides support.

3Com has installed sixteen AirConnect 11Mbps wireless LAN access points in the hotel and has provided 11Mbps wireless LAN PC cards. The access points are connected with the 3Com SuperStack 3 switch 3300, that has autosensing to adjust the speed of the attached devices.

“The AirConnect product is 802.11 standards based,” Bruce Comeau, 3Com’s Edmonton-based area sales manager for Western Canada, said. “It comes with an application that allows you to walk around the entire building and tell you where you need access points. Because the Travelodge is entirely concrete, it required more access points than typically needed. We put together a design that covers the hotel from corner to corner. There’s not a corner of the hotel that does not have access.”

When a guest checks into the hotel, he or she is given a credit card-sized LAN PC card and a CD-ROM which contains quick install software. Once installed, the guest’s laptop can be used anywhere within the hotel. This complete access is expected to be a drawing card for potential guests, according to Piotto.

“You don’t have to stay cooped up in your room connected to the wall,” Piotto said. “You can take your laptop and go to the restaurant, or sit in the lounge and have a drink, or sit by the pool or outside on a bench and work. Even the banquet rooms are connected.”

According to Saskatoon-based Bob Anderson, the regional manager for Shaw, the 3Com solution is ideal for business professionals on the road, and because each of the sixteen access points is able to accommodate up to 63 laptops, the hotel is expecting an increase in conference bookings.

“Business travellers are demanding the same high-speed Internet in a hotel as they would in the office and at home,” Anderson said. “Now, guests and staff at the hotel can download bandwidth-hungry presentations and videos and surf the Internet in a fraction of the time of dial-up connections.”

The Travelodge currently charges $9.95 per day for access and is in the process of purchasing laptops to rent to guests who leave theirs at home.

Although the Travelodge is thrilled to be a pioneer in the hotel industry in Western Canada for implementing a high-speed wireless solution, they are not adverse to sharing their experience and information with their competitors.

“Saskatoon is a city of 225,000 people, so everyone in the hotel industry works closely with each other,” Piotto explained. “The technology is not exclusively for us. We have no problem showing what we have and providing all kinds of information about our experience. Just today I met with someone from a hotel in Calgary who wanted to know more, so I gave him a package to take to the hotel’s owners.”

For the time being, Piotto is enjoying the Travelodge’s status as one of the first to embrace wireless technology in its region.

Piotto summed up the core reason for going with the wireless solution, which could also apply to his business strategy: “Who wants to stay stationary?”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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