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By Aravind Chamarti, Ph.D.

Imagine a hotel experience in which guests’ smartphones ask permission to access hotel preference settings hours before arrival, so when guests enter the lobby, they are checked in, greeted by name, and immediately given directions to their rooms. Guests open the doors to their rooms by waving their phones by a sensor, and walk in to find adjustable beds already set to their comfort level, the temperature and lighting is perfect for each individual, and the music that’s playing is a favorite song. Turning to the big screen, customized entertainment is downloaded and ready for a private theater-like experience.

This smart, personalized approach to satisfying guests extends far beyond the room, from the gym and pool to the breakfast area. The chef’s menu thoughtfully highlights vegetarian options for guests who eschew meat. Smartphones give guests real-time guidance on how to meet up with their kids or colleagues… without waiting. Every guest request is delivered faster during their stay – think towels, room service, and drinks by the pool – and the hotel app even anticipates what they might need through alerts and suggestions. When it’s time to leave, these guests want to come back, because the remarkable stay they enjoyed was made possible by the fast-growing “internet of things” (IoT), through which hotels have direct access to their guests – and vice versa – via the smartphones and other devices that most guests have on them at all times.

The IoT works in the background of hotels to provide these smart guest interactions (and many more). Sensors throughout a property link to guest smartphones and other sensors to gather data, then the most meaningful information is extracted via analytics to create personalized profiles, trends, predictions, and probabilities. Hotels use what they learn about their guests through the IoT to build loyalty, certainly, but they also mine this data to improve workflow streamlining, process optimization, and operational efficiencies. The lights turning on and heating or air conditioning adjusting while a guest is still in the elevator is a surefire way to impress guests, for example, but it also reduces electricity costs. Or consider that a smart coffeemaker in the conference room alerts a nearby staff member that it’s running low, so caffeine-deprived guests are spared a disappointing encounter with an empty carafe, but another win for the hotel is that the coffeemaker automatically orders its own inventory. A smart hotel using the IoT to deploy its closest staff member scores points with guests impressed with the lightning-fast service, but it also enjoys gains in workforce efficiency. The hotel app that offers customized promotions not only drives guest engagement in loyalty programs but finds incremental revenue as well. The possibilities are endless.

What the IoT can do in hotels today is easy to imagine compared to what the same hotels will be able to offer in the future: amenities like virtual service attendants and environments, immersive entertainment, real-time interactive games, and holographic telepresence experiences. The IoT has already revealed so many possibilities in its infancy, and the hotel industry is heavily investing in technology to maximize its potential well into the future.

ROI of Smart Hotels

Forbes estimates that investment in the global IoT market will grow to as much as $14.4 trillion by 2022. The majority of this spending is related to improving customer experiences, but it will also contribute an estimated $5 trillion toward reduced costs (reduced selling, general, and administrative expenses) and increased worker productivity (fewer and/or more productive man-hours).

Hotel owners and property managers evaluating their technology spending for 2016 and beyond are witnessing the significance of IoT investments in their return on investment (ROI) calculations right away. Broad returns include the “wow” factor – a must for encouraging repeat customer visits and loyalty in the highly competitive hospitality industry – and operational efficiencies of employees, processes, and systems on an unprecedented scale. Results are measurable, too, based on the specific ways that hotel owners use the IoT in their properties. Going back to the example of IoT-connected sensors controlling lighting/temperature settings, one luxury hotel participating in an IoT pilot found that regulating the air conditioning and heating based on the number of people in any given part of the hotel could save $60,000 a year in one location alone. 

Investments in IoT are already apparent today as many forward-looking hotels are transitioning to app-based keyless entry to rooms and connected minibars that immediately detect guest selections.

While plummeting costs of sensors and electronics make IoT investments practical, hoteliers have the opportunity right now to be ahead of the curve – and their competitors – when it comes to preparing their networks for smarter possibilities.

Building a Smarter Infrastructure

To harness the IoT’s potential to create “wow” experiences on their properties, and to enjoy its powerful ROI, hotel owners must prepare their networks to support their guests’ bandwidth needs and meet the capacity requirements of hundreds, even thousands, of sensor-equipped devices. A “thing” can become smart if it knows how to respond in the context of its environment, meaning it’s important to be able to accurately identify a location along with other context clues. To meet this requirement, a hotel’s network must include a high density of unique end nodes on top of what hotel owners already know they need to do: provide reliable, pervasive service coverage and support the bandwidth requirements of their guests’ data-hungry smartphones.

Today’s smartest infrastructure investments have built-in longevity both on the wired and wireless sides of the network. It’s a given that hotel guests increasingly expect high-speed connectivity wherever they roam on a hotel’s property, but with the IoT’s momentum comes a new demand for wireless end devices accommodating flexible architectures to support emerging protocols and features. And for further future readiness, hoteliers investing in wireless network controllers/hubs at the network’s end point are ensuring that these components support the widest array of indoor frequencies and industry-standard protocols.

Behind the wireless is a hotel’s wired infrastructure and another opportunity to squeeze value out of technology investments. Fiber optic connectivity is particularly valued by hoteliers who want to wire their properties once, knowing that the infrastructure has the high-bandwidth capability to support all of their guests’ and operational needs well into the future, whatever the IoT may bring. For the biggest ROI, an all-fiber infrastructure can extend deep into the hotel’s property, including guest rooms and gathering places, giving owners peace of mind that their hotel is ready for smart adoption.

Now is the optimal time to make hotels smarter, not only so hoteliers can realize the promise of high ROI, but to enable the “wow” experiences that lead to repeat visits and positive reviews. Hoteliers investing wisely in their wired and wireless infrastructures will have the competitive advantage of being ready for tomorrow’s IoT and other high-bandwidth demands – today. 

About Aravind Chamarti

Aravind Chamarti, Ph.D., is a wireless commercial technology leader with Corning Optical Communications. In his 10 years with Corning, Chamarti has held various research and development, engineering, and product management positions. He specializes in wireless technologies such as active/passive RFID, WLAN, radio-over-fiber systems, cellular DAS, and trends such as location-based services and the IoT.

Contact: Aravind Chamarti / (703) 584-3302

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