Most hotel guests take Wi-Fi for granted. Yet, it’s also one of the things most-complained about, so there’s a huge opportunity for improvement. Why do we have to sign in every time we want to access a new Wi-Fi network? Or login again as a returning guest to a hotel we’ve stayed at before – or even at another property within the same brand? Hauke Lenthe, Nomadix’s international managing director, talks more about what’s available to upgrade the user experience today. It’s an idea that sounds obvious once you hear it.
As a leader in guest networks and guest-facing solutions, Nomadix uses technology to enhance the guest and tenant experience in hospitality and multi-tenant spaces. A key solution to improve the guest journey is Passpoint (read more about Passpoint later), which can deliver a seamless guest experience, pre, during, and post-stay, across multiple locations. Read on to learn more about their perspective on the future of WiFi networks.
SHIJI: Tell us about your background.
LENTHE: I am a hotelier by heart, with 25 years in hospitality and almost 20 years in hotel tech. I spent a lot of time in the world of Wi-Fi and networking and everything associated with this like guest connectivity, mobile apps and IPTV.
I started in 2006 when the first iPhone was released. With the launch of the first iPads in 2009, we saw a consumer tech revolution whereby in two to three years we went from, “I need to connect my laptop and send emails,” to, “I want to connect my phone and listen to music.” Today that looks like, “I want to bring and connect more than three devices, watch video content while on a conference call and keep the kids entertained.” Hotel networks haven’t always kept up, and I’m sure that most readers have stories where a hotel’s network couldn’t handle what they needed.
SHIJI: And a disclaimer: You worked with Shiji previously, too, correct?
Yes, I was EVP, Hetras, a Shiji Group brand’, and later ‘EVP Marketing, Europe. I had the pleasure to see behind the curtains of the new Shiji Enterprise Platform development, and the target of a single guest profile. It fits nicely with the approach towards a world of connected places and travelers, which, I think we’ll discuss further in this conversation.
SHIJI: Yes, definitely. But let’s start at the beginning. What’s the story behind Nomadix.
Nomadix started over 25 years ago, and today handles over 5 million daily internet connections in over 3 million guest rooms. We’ve done more than 50,000 hotel network installations in around 150 countries, and are servicing brands like Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton. Our customers include hotels, multi-tenant properties like long-stay apartments, serviced apartments, and student accommodation, communities, shopping malls, shared office spaces and smart cities.
Why is WiFi important in helping travelers stay connected beyond their hotel room or lobby?
There are a number of IOT devices in a network – door locks, mobile phones, TVs,
This experience is no different at global hospitality brands, or co-working and other shared spaces. At hotel chains, for instance, guests have to log in to each hotel Wi-Fi network, even though they’re the same brand experience in other ways. If we can remove the friction (and frustration) of asking guests to log in each time, we get closer to a seamless guest journey, better satisfaction and dare I say, loyalty. It’s no coincidence that Airbnb now lists Wi-Fi speed and quality test results into its app for rental listings. It’s that important to guests.
Using Passpoint to enable seamless, secure connectivity across hotels on the network, brands can automatically connect their guests at every branded property and, through roaming agreements, at other places that will connect the guest journey, like workspaces, coffee shops, restaurants and city centres. The point is that the guest does not have to authenticate themselves each time if they so choose.
Once that is happening, other companies can start building services around the connected user. It’s not happening right now, because hoteliers don’t have seamless connectivity in place, but think of the use cases. Once connected, the mobile device becomes a kind of personal, albeit anonymised, ID. Hoteliers can get insights into guest behaviour across the hotel, what they interact with, like IoT devices, and understand their activities, likes, and dislikes.
From this, hoteliers can enrich their CRM or PMS with insights that can only come from Wi-Fi and – here’s what’s exciting – can act on it. Cellular networks can never give the hotelier this because what’s happening on the network is seen only by the mobile carrier and not the brand. How nice would it be to receive a pop-up on arrival asking me whether I want to check in before I’ve taken my phone out of the pocket?
One solution for this is Passpoint. It is an industry standard developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to streamline access to Wi-Fi hotspots, removing the need for users to authenticate each time, enabling automatic roaming between locations – within and outside of the hotel – and enhancing the guest experience via digital engagement options.
We were asked by a luxury hotel operator if we could inform them when a VIP guest was leaving their room so that they could prepare them tea before the guest arrived in the lobby downstairs. Now that is service!
It uses the same principles of a cellular journey, but for Wi-Fi. It’s based on securely authenticating the guest with a certificate on their mobile phone, enabling an experience that’s similar to how the device is recognised as it moves from one country’s carrier to another. This means that if the guest is connected at ‘Hotel Brand XYZ,’ whichever location they visit.
Existing cellular networks often run out of capacity, so carriers want to offload data to Wi-Fi to maintain and even improve the mobile subscriber’s experience. Passpoint is also an opportunity for brands with spare capacity, and in high-demand locations, to monetise their Wi-Fi infrastructure. This is done seamlessly, without the end-user knowing which network they’re using. So Passpoint will first, provide a similar experience to a cell network and second, enable hybrid connectivity between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
Yes, what are your thoughts on the theory some people hold, that 5G will replace WiFi entirely?
We don’t see that happening. There are solid reasons why the two technologies are complementary.
Cellular coverage can not – at least soon – be everywhere. Physics and building materials like steel, glass and concrete are a challenge, which is typically why Wi-Fi is chosen indoors. Hotels define ‘Wi-Fi coverage standards’ across the building to assure internet standards. And no mobile operator will deliver blanket 5G coverage, so hybrid or converged networks will always exist. There’s also got a raft of non-5G consumer devices in circulation – and a proportion of users that will never have the technology or an unlimited data plan – not to mention that mobile data bundles can be expensive and limited when travelling overseas.
Then, think about the cost of processing all the data traffic that happens on a cell network. This traffic is increasing every year. It is currently estimated that we have around 25 billion Internet of Things devices, from printers to smart lights. To try to run everything in a hotel off 5G would be difficult and expensive. It’s simply not a replacement for the concentration of activity that happens inside a space like a hotel. Even home printers can’t be connected to a local network over 5G, which would mean a carrier would need to connect to millions of smart devices. It would cost them a fortune.
Likewise, think about the high volume of people at a hotel at the same time, often using concurrent high bandwidth applications. 5G could become a bottleneck, whereas Wi-Fi works better in high-density environments.
In New York City, we turned thousands of former phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots, so people can walk around the city and have a continuous Wi-Fi connection as their devices move from kiosk to kiosk. The carriers want this, they want a “smart city,” but they don’t want to have to power all of the data that will be processed.
How do you see all of this playing out? What will it look like for the average user or hotel?
Today’s hospitality Wi-Fi experience is quite old school, and there’s a lot we can do to improve it. We’re already in conversations with hotel brands that will put Passpoint in place very soon.
I think we’ll see that Passpoint can provide a similar experience as a cellular network. It will also be the bridge between CRM, loyalty, and data platforms to identify where guests are and service them accordingly. They’ll arrive at a hotel, automatically connect to Wi-Fi and receive a welcome message with a check-in option. That’s simply a great guest experience.
How would this impact the guest experience?
Guests add a one-time Passpoint profile onto their device. With this profile in place, the guest is connected as soon as they’re in range of a networked hotspot. This alerts the hotel that they’re on the property and, with PMS integration, could trigger a query to check that they have a reservation using the guest’s phone ID. In turn, the guest will receive a message to prompt them to check in.
From airplane Wi-Fi to the airport Wi-Fi, to the taxi, to the hotel lobby Wi-Fi – this will eventually be a seamless, secure user experience. Once checked in, the hotel could identify that a guest previously used the pool or spa, and send a message with opening hours and spa services.
It’s not too difficult. Passpoint is a mature industry-wide standard defined by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which gives hotel guests a better brand experience with seamless internet connectivity across multiple locations. For the hotelier, it allows them to identify the device and its location and to build their digital guest journey around this information. By allowing guests to connect to Wi-Fi with a single guest profile, brands can deliver digital and real-time service, based on actual data.