Because of its attractive economics and flexibility, Wi-Fi (the popular term for a high-frequency wireless local area network, or WLAN), is an excellent way to deploy High Speed Internet (HSI) in a hotel environment.
Early installations were often limited to a single access point intended to serve just the lobby; the signal rarely reached meeting spaces or guestroom areas of the property.
The fact that Wi-Fi service is unlicensed makes it easy to deploy and has led to unprecedented popularity, growth, and usage in both residential and commercial settings. Newer laptop computers often have built-in support for wireless connectivity. A plug-in adapter allows for inexpensive upgrades to computers not originally equipped for Wi-Fi.
The most widely adopted WLAN type complies with the IEEE 802.11b (802.11b) standard. This is what most people use to connect to “hotspots,” or publicly available Internet service. This is also the same type of WLAN service that is increasingly available in hotel guestrooms.
For a single hotspot, one radio cell is deployed to which all users connect. The speed that a user experiences depends on the number of users logged on at a given time and the bandwidth purchased to connect the hotspot to the Internet.
For larger venues, including hotel guestrooms, one radio cell will not support all of the users that may need to connect to the service at the same time. Multiple Wi-Fi cells are used to cover larger areas and support more users. With multiple cells, however, there can be interference from adjacent channels and co-channels. This is due to the limited number of channels available in the popular 802.11b frequency band.
Core Communications (Core) solves this problem for its clients with advanced planning (discussed in more detail below).
If you have ever used a Wi-Fi connection in a hotel, you know that it can be a wonderful thing in comparison to dial-up Internet service.
In addition to lobby hotspots and guestroom Internet service, Wi-Fi technology is increasingly common in hotel meeting spaces. If the meeting space wireless equipment is not supplied by the hotel, interference conditions can exist.
Interference can dramatically affect the performance of any WLAN. In general, interference is caused either by radio-emitting devices operating in the same frequency bands or by thermal or background noise.
Other Wi-Fi radio devices can pose a more troubling concern. Again, Core solves this problem for its clients with advanced planning.
With licensed services, rigid coordination is required so that transmitting devices do not cause appreciable interference with one another.
In the United States this coordination is governed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
For unlicensed service, such as Wi-Fi, the FCC takes a hands-off posture, stating that users must accept any interference to which they are exposed.
Some of us remember the problems with adjacent channels and co-channel interference at the peak of the CB radio craze. There were only 23 CB channels available, but many more users could use the service in a given area at any time.
The FCC eventually expanded the number of channels to 40, but this did little to help. To make matters worse, there were a couple of different ways to use the same channel: AM and Single Sideband. The two methods interfered with one another.
Wi-Fi deployment can be hampered by similar issues. Only a handful of non- interfering channels exist for unlicensed 802.11b. There are also a couple of different ways to use the same frequencies; some 2.4 GHz cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless PC keyboards, wireless headphones, and yes, microwave ovens, to name a few.
Wi-Fi performance depends upon several variables, including the number of available frequency channels and cell deployment parameters.
Any radio signal detected by a radio receiver that is not the desired signal can be considered noise.
Careful cell deployment engineering and management of the number of available channels can mitigate interference effects.
For WLANs that noise source may be some other type of electronic equipment or it may be another Wi-Fi device operating on, or close to, the same channel. This Wi-Fi device can be another access point, or a PC operating in the Ad Hoc client mode.
The strength of the desired signal, compared to an undesired signal or signals, can be readily measured. Many of the 802.11b cards on the market come with a software program that lets the user measure signal strength as well as noise.
Even before Wireless Internet is installed in a property, Core technicians measure noise levels during a site survey to determine what level of signals are appropriate, and to establish what noise levels might exist.
With this knowledge, a reliable radio system can be designed and installed for Wireless Internet.
Recall that there are several types of equipment that may operate in the same frequency range as the most popular Wireless HSI services.
For our example we will ignore noise from cordless phones, baby monitors, an occasional microwave oven, and other types of wireless devices. Let’s talk specifically about the most widely adopted WLAN type that complies with the 802.11b standard. This is what you see today in many hotels.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Consider the high tech event or trade show environment in a convention center. We’ve all heard tales of Wi-Fi deployed to support e-mail for conventioneers failing miserably because many of the exhibitors were also using Wi-Fi setups on the show floor to demonstrate their own products. Chaos ensues.
Wireless chaos is not limited to the convention center floor. It can occur in any Wi-Fi equipped hotel, if steps are not specifically taken to minimize its effects.
The first step for a property to take is adoption of an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for the Internet services that it provides.
This AUP should specifically limit the use of hotel-provided HSI as a gateway for other wireless access points, unless the use is coordinated with the Event Services Staff.
Very often an access point will be set up by a visitor to the hotel to reuse the Internet already in the hotel. If the visitor coordinates with the property, chances are very good that arrangements can be made that will not degrade services to other hotel guests.
In properties that are adjacent to, or part of, an office complex or shopping mall, Core has successfully worked with property management and building tenants to coordinate channel assignments, power levels, and even antenna types in use, so that all interested parties could coexist in the same Radio Frequency (RF) space without interfering with one another.
In a hotel environment, we’ve found that most visitor-related Wi-Fi setups are associated with a high tech event being hosted at the property. The setups may be in event spaces, meeting rooms, or hospitality suites.
By being asked the right questions ahead of time, exhibitors and vendors can prepare and bring equipment that can readily coordinate with the hotel infrastructure.
Whenever possible, exhibitors needing to set up Wi-Fi can use IEEE 802.11a equipment. This operates on different, non-interfering, channels from the hotel 802.11b infrastructure.
Core Account Managers are familiar with the wireless infrastructure in each of the properties that we serve. They can advise attendees just which settings are best for them to use. This includes coordination in meeting spaces and guestroom areas. More planning ahead of time means avoiding wireless chaos.