Internet Bandwidth Needs Rise at Hotels, Motels

Here’s a growing part of the Internet service provider industry you may not have considered: Hotel and hospitality Wi-Fi.

It’s a booming business for large telecom providers. A spokeswoman for AT&T said in 2012 the company saw its data traffic in hospitality venues explode with around 255 million connections, representing a growth of 170 percent year-over-year.

Windstream Corp. supplies Wi-Fi service to about 1 million rooms in about 3,000 properties, including several large chains like Marriott and Omni, said Don Reigel, vice president of hospitality at the Little Rock telecom.

That growth has come along with its share of challenges. The average American traveler, according to Windstream, now carries three mobile devices: a tablet, a phone and a laptop.

In hotels, and especially in hotels with attached convention centers, they’re more likely to use all of them, and they’re even more likely to use the venue’s Wi-Fi service to save on mobile data plans.

When Windstream handles the management of a venue’s network, it usually falls on the company to figure out how to handle the problem of hundreds of people all connecting to the Internet at the same time on multiple devices.

That’s why Windstream takes about 20,000 calls per month from hotel guests, said Chris Davis, a senior analyst for enterprise marketing at Windstream.

Travelers are “going to want to tweet, post pictures on Instagram, and they will rely heavily on the Internet,” Davis said. “With the amount of bandwidth going through, it can cause huge delays. The technology is changing so quickly, it’s hard for hotels to keep up with the bandwidth.”

Windstream has to figure out first if the guests are using the network correctly, so network technicians usually have the ability to remotely check wireless access points and see if guests are actually connected to them.

In extremely busy venues, telecoms sometimes set up special distributed antenna systems to boost Wi-Fi during high-traffic times. AT&T built one at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. One of its largest, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, cost $4.5 million.

But sometimes it’s just one guest clogging the network by uploading photos or videos or other bandwidth-heavy activities.

Davis said in that case, Windstream technicians can change the bandwidth dynamic by imposing limits on individual guests and equalizing it across the venue. The company can also order additional bandwidth for the hotel if it has maxed out on its original purchase.

“We do that day in and day out,” Davis said.