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Crappy hotel Wi-fi. It’s everywhere.
After four years on the road, I’ve literally lost count of the number of places I’ve stayed with terrible Internet connections.
Signal that doesn’t reach my room, logins that don’t work, speeds that are glacial in the morning and worse at night, dropped connections, ridiculous charges… the list of ways to screw up a wireless network goes on (and on, and on), and hoteliers find them all.
Consider this an open letter to hotel, hostel and guesthouse owners around the world. Having high-quality — or at least usable — Wi-fi in your establishment doesn’t need to be difficult, nor expensive. In many cases, it’ll cost you nothing at all to make dramatic improvements.
Please, for the sake of your guests and your bottom line, consider the following.
Don’t Cheap Out on the Wi-Fi Routers
Like anything else in life, when it comes to wireless routers, you get what you pay for. That cheap, crappy router you bought from the local electronics store four years ago isn’t up to the job any more. It probably wasn’t back then, either. The same goes for the piece of junk your Internet company sent you when you signed up for a connection.
A router designed to deal with half a dozen devices on a home network simply can’t deal with a hostel full of backpackers trying to update Facebook on a hungover, rainy afternoon. The first place manufacturers cheap out is in the amount of memory and speed of the processor.
Guess what the two most important things are for reliably dealing with all those connections? Yep, you guessed it.
They also tend to cover less area, only support old, slow protocols and have few options for fixing the problems you’ll encounter with dozens of devices on a network.
Spend the extra fifty or hundred bucks on a Wi-Fi router that can handle the load. Something like this solid Asus model will deal with at least 25 connections at once. If you’re likely to have much more than that, it’s time to start adding extra routers or access points (which will also give better signal around the hotel).
If you’re going to choose a different model, that’s fine — just read the specifications. Ask your local computer guy. Hell, find one of your guests who is as big a geek as me, and ask them — they’ll probably be more than happy to help. Getting this right will make an enormous difference to the speed and reliability of everyone’s connection.
Or The Connection Itself
The same thing applies to your Internet connection. Run a speed test to find out how fast it actually is, rather than how fast the brochure said it would be. Now divide that number by at least the number of beds in your hotel. During peak times, that speed is pretty much the best any of your customers can hope for.
If it’s less than 1Mbps download, 0.5Mbps upload, their experience is going to start suffering. If it’s less than about 0.5Mbps down, they’re going to get upset. With you.
Sure, you can suggest that Internet isn’t a necessity — and that’s probably true — but if you mention it in your listing, it needs to actually work. The customer who isn’t able to book a plane ticket, or Skype-call their bank to get a credit card unblocked, or chat with their mum because they’re having a crappy day, isn’t going to have much patience.
Update The Router Firmware
Just like any other app, the software that runs your wireless router needs updating now and then. You’ve probably ignored it since the day you bought it — that’s fine, most people do — but it’s worth visiting the router company’s website every now and then to see if there’s been an update.
Just find the right model number (it’ll be printed somewhere on the router), search the site, and follow the instructions if there’s an update.
Why do you need to care? Well, all kinds of reasons, but the two biggest ones are security and performance. Every update fixes bugs, and many of them make your router work a little better. Your customers will thank you, and you might not need to buy a new router quite yet. Happy days.
Change the Admin Password
The settings that your router came with out of the box are designed to get you up and running as quickly as possible. That’s great and all… but not when it comes to security.
If your router has a default administrator password (or none at all) to get into the settings, change it. Like, right now. If you don’t, people like me will log into it, kick everyone else off the network, and use all the bandwidth for themselves. No really, they will.
It takes all of about ten seconds on Google to get a list of standard passwords for wireless routers, and under a minute to log in and boot everyone else off. Advanced level hacking this is not, and the end result is a hotel full of angry guests. Well, all except one of them.
Put It Somewhere Sensible
Please, think about the layout of your hotel when deciding where to put the router. If your reception area is at the front of the building, and all the rooms are out the back, don’t stick the router beside the cash register.
Likewise, if your hotel stretches over a few floors, sticking the router on a middle level will make for happier customers than having it on the reception desk — even if that means the night porter has to wait a little longer for his selfies to appear on Instagram. Don’t stick it behind a concrete pillar either… or a cordless phone or microwave that’ll disrupt the signal every time you use it.
If your listing says that Wi-fi is available in the rooms, that doesn’t mean getting one solitary bar of signal if you hang out the window and hold your phone at just the right angle. Walk around your hotel, and test the signal strength in each room.
If it sucks, and you can’t get good coverage everywhere with one router, you’re going to need to invest in wireless access points to get the service you need. Yes, it’s a bit of extra money — but these things really aren’t expensive, and the extra bookings you’ll get from those positive TripAdvisor reviews will pay it back in no time.
Change The Wi-fi Password More Than Once a Decade
It’s great to be a good neighbour, but that doesn’t extend to everyone on the street using your Internet. I’ve often been in bars and cafes where, after asking for the Wi-fi details, I’ve been given the login for the hotel next door or across the street.
Your password isn’t hard to come by — every guest knows it, and it’s probably already on Foursquare — so, in the interests of data security and saving bandwidth for your paying guests, put a note in your calendar to change the Wi-fi password every month or two. It’s not a big ask.
QoS and Rate Limiting Are Good Things, If You Use Them Right
Just like toilet paper and the mini bar, your guests will use the Internet in differing amounts. While some are more than happy to check their email once a day and upload the occasional beach photo to Facebook, others view your Wi-fi as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
While downloading the last 800 seasons of some Kardashian-based reality TV show might sound like a great idea (or not), using all that bandwidth is going to slow things down for everyone else. Get a few people doing it, and your Internet is going to become unusable for the rest of your guests real fast.
So, what can you do about it? The magic word is rate limiting. Basically, it means configuring your wireless router to reduce the amount of data that any one device can send and receive, to leave enough for everyone else. Enough to make a Skype call, perhaps, but not enough to suck down the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in two minutes.
The exact settings will depend on all kinds of factors but again, dividing the number of beds by the actual speed of your Internet connection wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Not all routers include this feature — many crappy ones won’t. As mentioned earlier, this would be a great excuse to get a better router.
If you can’t or won’t get a router that supports rate limiting, at least find one with Quality of Service (QoS). This is a much more common feature, that lets you prioritise (for example) web and voice traffic over file downloads. Simply enabling this one feature will improve the Internet situation for everyone. Well, everyone other than that person who wants to download the Kardashians… but they’re beyond hope anyway.
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Stop Charging Separately For Internet
Ok, so here’s the thing. It’s not 2002 any more. Internet access is no longer some exotic, high-priced luxury good. It’s a utility, and people treat it like one. No hotel guest expects to pay extra to have the power turned on in their room, or water to come out of the tap. The same applies to Wi-fi.
Yes, I know it costs you money to provide the service — but toilet paper and soap aren’t free either, and you presumably don’t charge separately for those.
If you really feel the need to nickel and dime your customers, at least don’t do it so obviously. Build it into the nightly rate. I’m unlikely to care whether my room cost $53 or $58 a night… but ask me to hand over five bucks at check-in to use your dodgy Wi-fi, and you’ll hear all about it. I know I’m not alone in this.
Or At Least Get Rid Of Those Stupid Login Screens
Want to save some money and make your guests happier? Get rid of that stupid login system you’re using. You know, the one that forces people to enter unique usernames and passwords before they can access anything. The damn things rarely work properly, and usually just get in the way of whatever your customers are trying to do.
Most of them try to redirect to the login screen whenever someone tries to access a web page, for instance — but they can’t handle apps, or secure web sites, so guests just sit there angrily staring at their phone as it fails to connect.
Systems with a time limit are even more infuriating, as anything that tries to sync overnight will now fail. And if people would like to use a gadget that can’t show a web page — like a Chromecast to watch their favourite shows on the hotel TV — well, they can forget about that entirely.
Seriously, just get rid of those stupid screens, whether you’re charging for access or not.
And Kill Device Limits While You’re At It
Finally, understand that people travel with more than one device that uses Wi-fi. Phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, hard drives and a bunch of other things can all connect to a wireless network, and it’s not unreasonable to want to have more than one connected at once.
Don’t give an access code for one device to two or three people travelling together. Hell, don’t give it to one person travelling by themselves. If you’re going to insist on using those stupid login systems, at least don’t add insult to injury by limiting the number of devices as well.
It’ll make essentially no difference to the Internet speed, and you’ll stop frustrating people for no good reason. Fewer frustrated guests = better reviews = more money in your pocket.
None of these changes are particularly expensive, difficult or time-consuming to make — yet any one of them will make for happier customers. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?
Do you have any other suggestions about ways to improve hotel, guesthouse and hostel Wi-fi? Tell us about them in the comments!