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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hotel WiFi - sign the petition

Nice one Silicon.com - I applaud your anti-ripoff petition for hotel WiFi.

I'd like to add a couple of extra points:

- Hotels should charge meeting/conference organisers for WiFi on a reasonable basis. Either included as part of the room rental, or roughly on a par with the cost of tea-and-biscuits or bottled-water-and-mints.
- Where hotels are new or refurbished, they should make sure that cellular coverage is provided throughout the building, using repeaters/DAS systems or similar.

I was at the Osney Media 3G LTE->4G conference yesterday, in the basement of the Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch in London. Beautifully refurbished at a cost of £90m last year apparently. And only 15min walk from my house, so really convenient. So it's a pity that I have to suggest that all tech conference companies boycott the place, on account of its total lack of cellular coverage in the basement business centre, and its stupid £15 per day WiFi (that takes ages for non-guests to pay as they have to enter & print a full invoice).

(I was also going to nominate the XXXX Hotel in central London, especially as the reception informed me they'd "run out of vouchers" for the £10 WiFi. But then one of their tech guys gave me a free access code instead, so it'd be churlish to name them).


Martin said...

In Scottish terms, I'd say the case is "not proven". What proportion of users really want the service? What's the incremental cost of building the extra capacity to cope with "free"? What's the real negotiating power of the users? (I'd expect some megacorp with a deal with Hilton, say, to have all this stuff thrown in.) What will happen to customer service? What comeback would you have if the network was down the whole week?

We've been through this before with the EU trying to force "continental plan" onto everyone with breakfast included as a mandatory part of the service, whether you like it or not.

There's a clear disclosure problem, since to comparison shop WiFi rates -- which are rarely published unless zero -- you'd need to phone each hotel in turn. And that's assuming the receptionist knows what you're on about, and knows the service provider partner's rates. Regulation could also have unexpected side-effects, such as offering "free" basic access (capped to some teeny speed) and premium access (which would support VoIP etc.).

It's a reasonable market segmentation tool. Nobody likes to feel their utility curve being sized up. For business travel, Internet access may be like hot water, but there's always the cellular alternative.

The only regulation I can think of that might make a difference is to force disclosure of the cost of Internet access before commitment to a reservation.

Gijs said...

Instead of fighting windmills, why don't we count them instead?

Let's build a community website which lists the hotels in each city that offer free or cheap WiFi access.

I bet you this will be popular among us business travellers, and will in turn attract advertising from just those hotels like the Radisson (my personal favorite) who have figured it out.

Cheers, Gijs.

Dean Bubley said...

Martin - I don't think regulation is the answer. I think kicking the hotels commercially is, although some are probably strapped into long-term contracts outsourcing to badly-run hotspot providers. A lesson in outsourcing, really - your 3rd-party provider doesn't care about any damage to your core business.

In fact, the more I think about it, the real villains are probably the Swisscom Eurospots and iBahns of the world. Hilton, Marriott & co are just the naive, locked-in saps.