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Free Wi-Fi or Bust - A Rebuttal
By Matt Harvey
December 2010

I wanted to respond to the article "Free Wi-Fi or Bust - It's Free at McDonalds, Why Pay for it at a Hotel?" since it presents a very one sided view of both the state of the hotel HSIA business and the needs of the travelling public. 
What the writer must recognize is that not all travelers have the same needs as himself and hotel guests no longer fit into a “take it or leave it” type charging model.  I recently heard a great phrase which goes, “a customer asking for Internet might as well be asking the restaurant for food”.  The analogy here being that while some users define Internet access in terms of responding to email, updating social networking sites, keeping up with the news etc other users might define it as the ability to stream movies from popular video sites, hold video conferences, say goodnight to their kids over webcam, share desktops and increasingly, hook into their corporate voice solution.  These two different uses are very different in terms of the cost of providing the service and the value placed upon it by the user. 
The key here is that the definition of good Internet access varies wildly depending on the guest profile in the establishment in question.   Here’s two contrasting examples;
McDonalds Guest Profile
  • Primarily there to eat a meal
  • Short dwell time (30mins to 1 hour) so no need to stream video for example
  • Public setting not suitable for video conferencing or business phone calls
All this adds up to a lower bandwidth Internet service being perfectly acceptable to the average user.  This can be equated to the most basic Internet service you could buy at home. 
Upper Upscale Hotel Guest Profile
  • Business traveler primarily there to work
  • Long dwell time in the guest room with enough time to watch a movie or two
  • Private setting suitable for any business activity
This adds up to a high bandwidth service being required to match the need.  This service can be equated to the fastest Internet service you can buy at home which is something like 4x the price of basic service. 
Just as in the domestic market, there should be a choice for the customer about what service they need with an appropriate price.  Many hotels are now exploring “Freemium” as a business model for HSIA, providing a basic level of service for free (or included in the room rate) and a premium level of service for those who need extra.  See this recent article as an example
In conclusion, there is definitely a place in the hotel industry which caters to specific guest profiles for free Internet.  However, we are far from “Free Wi-Fi or Bust.”   

Matt Harvey
Director, Network Services
PSAV® Presentation Services

Also See:
Free Wi-Fi or Bust - It's Free at McDonalds, Why Pay for it at a Hotel? Telecom Revenue Drops to Record Lows for Myrtle Beach Hoteliers / November 2010

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