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HSIA Hotspots and the Business Traveler

Fri, 05/28/2004 - 6:23am

Ern Worthman, Technology and Editorial Director

HSIA — stands for high-speed Internet access ... well, at least for today.

For the purpose of this discussion, let's go with it. While one can endlessly discuss, philosophize and argue the various aspects of HSIA, one good topic of discussion is what HSIA means to the business traveler. I spend many an hour trying to HSIA from a number of locations. In principle, it's a great concept for the business traveler. It means one can be ubiquitously connected while on the road, 24/7 (even easier if you're one of those lucky enough to have a Blackberry. But, since I haven't been offered that marvelous 21st century device, I'm relegated to wireless hotspots).

My favorite hotspot is, of course, Tarbucks. Not that I particularly like Tarbucks coffee, or the long waits for a simple cup 'o joe while the line endlessly slogs through countless lattes and cappuccinos, but I know that just about every Tarbucks has a T-mobile hotspot. And, they usually work.

My next favorite hotspot is my hotel (wherever I may be). But the hotel model isn't nearly as well refined as the Tarbucks.

Truthfully, now-a-days, when I look for a hotel, a SIGNIFICANT criterion is a wireless hotspot (overall, my experience with wired in-room access hasn't been stellar, and it's expensive). In-room preferred, but lobby will work as well — but they gotta have one. Considering how few have WiFi, I think hotels are missing the boat, with the current status quo.

One problem I come across regularly is signal strength. The last time I had an in-room wireless option I could only stay connected while in the bathroom (cleanest teeth I've had in a long time, anyway). Eventually I had the hotel move me to a room closer to the access point because the poor S/N ratio kept dropping connection. But one observation I've made is that, generally, hotels don't deploy enough access points. Some rooms have great signal strength and data rates, others are marginal or intermittent.

Second, hotels don't use anywhere near the full potential of wireless access. Why can't they tie in additional productivity applications? For example, in-room services such as housekeeping and mini-bar inventory can communicate status or trouble tickets over the wireless network. I should be able to order room service, movies, schedule massages (hmmm ... my Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editor outta be all over that one) while sitting at the lobby bar. Other wireless-friendly applications include curbside check in and point-of sale.

Some other windows of opportunity include services like tiered services. Basic "b" services are OK most of the time, but give me the opportunity to buy "g" speeds if I need to move a lot of data in a hurry. And, it gives me the ability to hook up in conference rooms and meetings. I'd feel much better about meetings and such if I knew I could download that statistical analysis that I didn't think I needed. Or supply my boss or contemporaries with the technical explanation they need at a moments notice. Even help the sales staff if they are on a call and need my expertise or some editorial data.

Presently, there is a lot of discussion going on as to the value of hotel HSIA services. Some argue that the value added should be an option for the guest. Others argue that such services will attract guests and justify a bit of a rate increase for rooms. I argue that they should just make it available, I don't care if its buried in the room rate or as an optional "pay for use" service. Just make it work.

My next "want" is reliable and ubiquitous wireless access at convention centers. Again, my experience at conferences or trade shows is also hit or miss. My major complaint here is that my completion rate is spotty — some connect, some don't. I feel like the old adage, adapted to the HSIA moniker "you can connect to all of the hotspots some of the time, and some of the hotspots all of the time, but not all of the hotspots all of the time" is particularly applicable here. I've sat down at a table at a trade show "wireless lounge" and just couldn't connect. Others around me that I've talked to, from time to time, voice the same concerns. And, the trend is to charge for this. Not the right model, in my opinion.

To me, trade shows are the optimum venue for HSIA, attendees can register on-site, download exhibitor lists, make appointments, peruse peripheral activities, locate restaurants and make reservations, to name a few — all wirelessly. It would also be the perfect solution to technical sessions. One can download a complete seminar line up — rooms, times, topics, and can even register and pay on the "hotspot."

Finally, my hotspot pet peeve is the airport concourse. Every airport I've been in has a potpourri of WiFi hotspots. Sometime I can connect on one concourse, but not another. Or, I can connect at a restaurant in the main terminal, but not at the restaurant's satellite on the concourse. Geez, as much time as we all spend in airports, I'd be all over that if I were the powers that be. I prefer free access at airports, but would likely pay for solid and fast HSIA.

So, whatever comes down the hotspot pipe next, WiMax, WiFi-plus, WiGlobe or even WiSpace, there is a lot of room for improvement. We've got the technology, we just gotta get it out there. This is one case where I definitely believe in "if they build it, they will come."

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