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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hotel WiFi - a tale of two conferences

I was at two conferences last week - the Informa Handset World event in Berlin, and the Osney Media Mobile Web 2.0 show in London. I'll comment on the two events' outcomes in separate posts, but one quick observation:

  • The Berlin event was held at the Berlin Palace Hotel. There was no delegate WiFi, and Swisscom charged a hideous €22 per day for its supposed "business grade" service. It was slow and unreliable - lots of "404" errors on normal website like Yahoo & the BBC - (I think the DNS server was based on an abacus). It needed me to reboot my PC after I moved between conference rooms. and access points. As a joke, a slightly cheaper €17 "economy" 256kbit/s version was available, although without signing up it wasn't clear exactly what it blocked - eg Skype, IM, email attachements etc. Unsurprisingly, given it was Swisscom, there wasn't an economic option for Informa to have provided delegate access for free.
  • The London event was run at the very impressive Mayfair Hotel - which is part of the Radisson chain. And which provides free WiFi at all its European properties. It worked flawlessly.

I pity hoteliers who decided, maybe 4-5 years ago, and before the growth of WiFi, to sign up for long exclusive contracts - especially with Swisscom, which I think I'd single out as the greatest villain of the European WiFi industry. It's experiences like mine that will make people stop using WiFi in favour of 3G modems, as roaming prices come down.

I'd exhort hotel chains to look at renegotiating their WiFi contracts, as otherwise it will start to cost them lucrative conference business. And I'd recommend to the cellular operators that they start renting out 3G-backhauled WiFi AP's to conference organisers and hotels.

I'd recommend that conference organisers specifically try to avoid venues with "legacy" WiFi providers that have locked in the hapless site owners to 10-year contracts.

And lastly I'd recommend to enterprises that they watch out for 3G modem tariff plans that give free or flatrate roaming (Voda has one, and 3's dongles are totally free on its partner networks). A recent trip to Stockholm cost me the princely sum of £zero for 2 day's fast access - and has earned 3 UK a boatload of referrals from me for new customers.

It's a shame really, as WiFi when done right is excellent for laptop connectivity. But €22 per day for a lousy service makes a mockery of the whole industry, and makes some recent predictions of its demise as a public service (which I generally disagree with) more likely to become reality.


Denis Altudov said...

I was at SIGMOD last week in Westin Bayshore (Vancouver, BC, Canada) and hotel had $15/day wireleless, while conference center (the same building) had $50/day wireless. Total of $65/day.
Needless to say, no one was using it and eveyrone was paying attention to the speakers instead.

Glenn Fleishman said...

This isn't a solution for the conference organizers, but Swisscom is partnered with iPass for roaming. Instead of paying 22 euros a day, you could pay $40 for a month of unlimited service from iPass (and cancel after that month) and include service at that hotel, as well as airports and cafes and so forth. They list the Hotel Palace Berlin in their directory.