Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hotel Internet Services: Wireless Is Not Consistently Reliable The Way Hard-Wired Ethernet Service Was

If, as I do, you stay in different hotels every week all over the United States, and if, as I do, you are utterly dependent upon their Internet service for access to the World Wide Web and to the hundreds of daily emails we all get through MS Outlook, then perhaps you have experienced the severe frustrations that I have as hotels have increasingly forsaken good old hard-wired Ethernet cable access for thoroughly modern but less reliable wireless connections.

Why is this happening? Because hotels think it's sexy to have wireless-enabled environments that free us all from the hard-wired rooms of the recent past.

Except that hotel wireless is wildly variable and not (yet) nearly as reliable in signal strength as hard-wired solutions. Wireless installed in the tough concrete and steel structures that hotels are made of is erratic and unpredictable.

Here are some examples:

The Homewood Suites Fort Worth is a great property in every way but one: its wireless doesn't work in every room. In fact it doesn't work worth a toot in many rooms, some adjacent to each other. No one can explain why. The hotel gives us an 800 number to call, which is hopeless and infantile in its root cause analysis ("Sir, is your computer turned on?" is the first question).

The Doubletree Suites Times Square in Manhattan also asked me to phone an 800 number to resolve the fact that their Internet connection would not connect. When I made a fuss, the Manager On Duty came personally to my room and gave several simple solutions that were not on the instruction card and then comped the service for my trouble. But it was still aggravation I didn't need and time wasted, time lost.

The Hampton Inn Columbus (Ohio) Airport's wireless service often fades while the neighboring Hilton Garden Inn property's wireless signal invades the Hampton, causing incorrect password recognition, mass confusion, and dropped signals. The front desk simply says: "Gosh, our Internet provider is REALLY bad. We get LOTS of complaints EVERY week." But they never can get anything corrected.

The most egregious recent example of bad wireless is the Holiday Inn in Marquette, Michigan. Wireless signal strength there varies from a low of 18% (on my state-of-the-art Linksys "N" protocol wireless card) to a high of 62%. And it frequently kicks me off email and the web as often as every minute. Yet other times it is steady as a rock--and all this in the same room (313) that they have given me every week for 7 weeks.

Just tonight the Marquette Holiday Inn sales manager, a wonderful person in her own right, managed to get the company that provides the Internet service to actually come to the property and be on call to those (many) of us who were having problems. Glenn, their manager, was available earlier tonight when, for the first of many occasions, I was kicked off the 'net by his terrible service, and so I phoned to have Glenn come to my room.

His reaction? He stared at my computer without touching it for a minute, and, adjusting his glases, turned to face me, and said, "This is a great learning experience for me."

I ushered Glenn to the door and gave him the bum's rush, telling him never to come back.

I don't know about you, but I am not paying my hotels many hundreds of dollars each week to provide learning laboratories for their horse-hockey technical vendors. Especially when their so-called managers don't have a clue as to why the advertised service isn't working.

This would be a complicated technical subject if I intended to describe the myriad of reasons for poor Internet service via wireless.

But even though I know some of those reasons, they are all beside the point. I don't give a rat's ass why it isn't working, and neither should you. I deeply resent any hotel that tries to foist me off onto their vendor's 800 numbers or in-the-flesh technical people. I just want consistently reliable access to the Internet and to my email. That's all.

Hotels provided fine Internet access when it was via Ethernet cable, but now that it goes by funky radio waves (and that's all wireless is: radio transmitters and receivers) things get dicey real fast. Hell, one has only to look at the myth of cell phone so-called service to understand how unreliable the parsing of radio bandwidth has become. How many dropped mobile calls do you experience a day, regardless of cell provider? Is it any wonder, then, that wireless Internet in the difficult steel and concrete environments of hotels is hopeless?

The point is that gradually we frequent business travelers have become utterly dependent upon the umbilical cord lifeline of the Internet. Our clients have firewalls and other impenetrable Internet occlusions to outsiders (read: nonemployees) that prevent us from accessing the Web during the day. This means we must work our emails nightly from our hotel rooms. Hotels have not faced the fact that their wireless providers are not consistently reliable. Ethernet (hard-wired) connections were simple and always reliable. Hotel managers never considered the difference in reliability when they switched to wireless.

Today I choose my hotels on the basis of consistently reliable Internet access (wireless or Ethernet) even above price and location. This has never been true before, and yet no hotel chain, or even local hotel management competing in hot local markets, has picked up on this marketing differential angle.

Too bad; it would make my life a lot easier on the road if I had a chain I could depend on every time, every place, for reliable wireless Internet service.


Blogger Tripper said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/10/2006 7:23 AM  
Blogger Tripper said...

Mr Allen,
I'm a network engineer (I install a large storage provider's network attached storage products) and even I have problems with them. One of the main ones? The fact that when I do get a wired connection, they cross wire it to some unknown standard and my 25' cable doesn't work.
There are two standard wiring configurations for ethernet cable used: T568A, used for straight through , everyday cables and T568B, which is the standard crossover cable for directly connecting two like devices (PC-PC, swtich-switch, etc). I carry connecters (gender-benders) to connect to either and on most wired connections (where I can't directly plug into the modem) they don't work. Once, I even unscrewed the walljack to find that the wires were done in a totally non-standard way.
What do they expect to gain by doing this? Keeping someone from stealing a cable that costs .50 to make?
And yes, the support lines are totally useless. Only once did someone point out that my network card was set wrong and that was over 5 years ago.
One day, hotels will wake up to the fact that a good, solid internet connection has become as vital to a business traveler as having the alarm clock go off in the morning on time.

And my apologies, blogger is determined to not let me use my google account.

Roger Benson

11/10/2006 7:25 AM  
Blogger Joshua Katt said...

This is so true Mr Allen. Even worse is that most corporate "VPN" systems need a steady, reliable signal and will disconnect without it - which screws up my Outlook for days afterwards. Even wired connections vary in reliabilty, quaility and ease of connection.
For what is worth, I find the
"full service" (meaning overpriced and everything extra) Marriott hotels have the best wired connection (and I bring along a $10 "travel router").

11/14/2006 9:17 AM  
Blogger Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

THANK YOU for this column. I just finished a crazed week-long, state-hopping journey. Rather than lug my laptop around, I traveled with my iPAQ, complete with Wi-Fi card and portable foldup keyboard--which left me unable to use DSL when it was available, and hours of torment trying to get and keep the wireless connection working, which at most hotels was a total failure. You helped me confirm it wasn't my equipment (which I began to wonder about, but which works flawlessly in any other Wi-Fi zones aside from hotels) but rather a common hotel problem. I guess it's true: misery does love company, at least company that shares the SAME misery!

11/14/2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

Tripper and Joshua and Charlene: Thank you so much for your comments. The NYT has told me they are planning an article on this subject soon. Maybe the negative publicity will get the attention of the hotel industry. Happy Thanksgiving from Raleigh, North Carolina!

11/17/2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Technomusings said...

Mr. Allen:
Your column, following my article I sent you about it being time for hotels to start viewing complimentary internet access as routine, affirms that, regardless of the hotel, regardless of cost, most need to rethink their internet service, absorb the cost of proviging relia
ble internet services, or face massive loss of business!
Richard Cornell
Professor Emeritus
University of Central Florida

12/08/2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I also am a network engineer. I would not have a job if my clients had the same type of networks as many hotels. About three quarters of the time, the hotel networks do not work acceptably, or do not work at all. I have the worst trouble with wireless but also even wired can be problematic. My recent stay at the Marriott Los Angeles Airport...I could not get the "login" page. The hotels surely need to pay more attention to this. I need the internet and I do check out if it doesn't work.

5/27/2007 4:08 PM  

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