By Speleos Dravillas
While other businesses and industries have transitioned easily to cloud-based PBX telephony, hospitality has been mostly left behind. There’s no doubt hotel telephony is complicated, and a few companies have attempted to make the transition to the cloud but have either outright failed or been slow to penetrate the market due to the inherent challenges.
Facing more urgent economic pressures, hospitality general managers have a greater need now more than ever to consolidate voice and data. But in order to be successful, cloud-based PBX systems must have the technology, integration and disruptive pricing structure to make it not only work, but also economically viable.
Unique Challenges Demand Creative Solutions
To be sure, designing PBX systems for hotels is extremely complex. Where cloud-based PBX works well in an office environment, the user of each extension doesn’t change on a day-to-day basis. But in a hotel, a guest room extension must be assigned to each guest upon check-in, and all call records, voice mails, etc. must be automatically deleted upon check out. That might mean ownership of a specific guestroom phone changes every single day for short-term stays.
It also means the PBX system must integrate seamlessly with the Property Management System (PMS), and only a few players even in on-premises PBX have mastered this PMS integration. With around 35 different PMS platforms on the market, there are several separate integrations that need to be maintained and updated. That makes it more challenging for cloud PBX to work well across the board.
Finally, price is a huge factor. Because of the large volume of extensions required, telephony providers face constant pressure from properties to keep prices as low as possible for both on-premises and cloud services. Because they’re designed for enterprise deployment, most cloud providers have three pricing tiers: small, medium and large, with per-line fees that depend on the number of extensions required. But the per-line fee becomes untenable for hoteliers, who demand around one-fourth the cost of enterprise in order to keep their own OpEx low.
The Time for Convergence is Now
Today, we’ve finally reached a point where the convergence of data and telephony is not only possible, but also imperative, to deliver the low cost and features hoteliers—and their guests—demand.
Companies that can combine Wi-Fi and PBX telephony services into a simple, single-source solution can deliver a clear advantage to property owners and give them the service, features and pricing they need. In short: the equipment to power Wi-Fi and voice are the same. With the equipment already in place to connect to the LAN for Wi-Fi, there’s no reason VoIP devices can’t be connected to that existing data network.
In addition, where data and voice services were once administered by separate entities on behalf of the property, now they’re both owned by the IT group. That means the capability exists to buy both services from a single vendor and have them administered by the same department, making for a much simpler procurement, deployment and administration process.
In this scenario, with provisioned Wi-Fi services already integrated into the PMS, integrating the telephony is no extra work. The infrastructure is already in place; it’s just a matter of connecting the devices. In fact, the technology now exists to reuse in-place analog devices for cloud-based telephony, saving property owners the hassle and expense of changing out in-room phones.
This setup also makes it easy to extend the cloud-based PBX service to international locations, where local regulations often make typical PBX deployments more challenging. Since both Wi-Fi and VOIP are on the converged IP networks, the simplicity for one manufacturer to provide both is obvious. But perhaps the biggest disruption must happen via pricing. Rather than charging per hospitality extension or per room for cloud-based PBX service, innovative data and cloud PBX providers must bring the same model they use for data to the PBX service. That means charging a flat fee per X number of devices accessing the network, just as they would for data usage on each gateway. This arrangement will allow providers to keep prices low to satisfy hoteliers’ demands for affordable, yet full-featured, services for their guests.
The convergence of data and voice to deliver truly flexible, PMS-integrated Wi-Fi PBX service is revolutionizing hospitality telephony. Manufacturers that can deliver the all-in-one solution and affordable pricing structure, on a global basis, can give property owners outstanding value and service to keep their guests connected across every channel.