Client: The Red Hall Hotel, Ramsbottom
Project: Hotel Guest Wireless system Upgrade
Installing a guest internet Wi-Fi service had been a bit of an afterthought for the hotel. It wasn’t considered during the rebuild of the hotel in 2008, which would have been an ideal time to run network cables and attached devices to the internal walls or ceilings.
When it was decided to go ahead to offer this facility, it was also decided it would be provided free of charge to entice guests to stay and use the hotel. On this basis the costs of the equipment used and the style of set up were kept to a minimum.
A separate internet connection was put in alongside the one the hotel used for its own offices and staff. Basic wireless access points were positioned around the hotel but as the access points were more designed for the desk tops in an office they couldn’t be attached to the internal walls or ceilings, or if they could they didn’t look aesthetically pleasing enough for the nice décor of the building. They also didn’t utilise Power over Ethernet (PoE) on the whole and therefore needed to be near an electrical power socket. This limits the positioning of the device to areas that have a power socket and not necessarily the ideal location for coverage and signal strength.
There were quite a lot of areas in the hotel that had weak or no signal. This was due to access points being behind walls in maintenance access shafts, locked storage areas, loft spaces and even behind bar drinks fridges! Besides needing to be near a power outlet there was a need to hide them not just because of the way they looked or because they couldn’t be attached to the walls, so that guests or staff couldn’t tamper with them.
Although the service was free many hotels were offering this and the next step up was to make sure the service was reliable and consistent. People were being put off by the fact that the service wasn’t available in all rooms and areas of the hotel and if they were trying to use the access point behind the bar fridges they would get disconnected due to interference when the fridges motor kicked in!
The hotel had started to also provide additional conferencing equipment that was internet driven and made use of the wireless network. An Epson projector was mounted on the wall, displaying on a 3 metre by 3 metre automated screen attached to the opposite wall. Connected to the projector was an Apple TV device which in turn was connected to the wireless system also, this allowed all the control to take place with a customised app on any iPad. The projector, the screen and the Apple TV all controlled from one place through the wireless network.
Guests emailed the hotel a PowerPoint presentation ahead of them arriving to give a conference. The presentation was then streamed off the internet over the wireless network from the iPad through the Apple TV using the iPad mirroring feature and displayed through the projector onto the screen. When the wireless connection was being unreliable it caused major upset and embarrassment when people had a room full of delegates, not just to the presenter but ultimately to the hotel itself of course.
As a stop gap CNi Solutions were brought in to do a small review of the situation to see if anything could be done, but with the emphasis of keeping it cost effective but still achieving a better solution. The access points behind the fridges were moved and placed as far away as possible to avoid any interference and additional access points with a stronger signal were installed instead to boost the signal to areas and rooms that were previously out of range.
This did improve things, the drop outs didn’t occur and the majority of rooms and areas were covered reliably. The system as a whole though was a real mixture of different devices in hard to find or access locations. Each device was a different make with different signal strength and security, and had a different wireless name. It was finally time to upgrade the Wi-Fi guest access.
To ensure that all rooms and all areas were covered with a wireless network of the same name, a system was designed so it could be shown where the points would need to go. 11 access point’s (AP’s) of the same make and model were deployed using PoE to supply the power, meaning the devices could be put in the locations necessary to achieve the best coverage and signal strength. The units were designed to be on show and attached to ceilings and walls. The units are sealed so that they cannot be tampered with and are located out of reach.
With the AP’s being designed to be on show and being positioned up above people’s eye line they can go unnoticed. Being attached to the inside of the wall or ceiling rather than behind or above it, gives less interference immediately and stronger signal strength. Also they can be easily accessed, should any maintenance need to be done or review the status of the device by checking the lights are visible on the outside.
The 11 AP units are managed by a wireless controller that sends out updates to them and tells them all the same wireless network name to display. Therefore if you want to change anything on the configuration of the system you do it from the controller and it pushes it out to all of them. The controller alerts you of problems on the network in terms of failures, overload or outages. This could never have been achieved before. If any additional or replacement devices are required they can simply be attached, then discovered by the controller and automatically configured by pushing out the settings, enabling a new access point on the current system. Same name, same settings, same everything.
The management of the system is so much easier and the security is vastly improved. The controller also provides a landing page or captive portal, ensuring guests have to either provide a login name and password or agree to the terms and conditions of using the facility, providing a name and email address. The Red Hall chose the method of agreeing to the T&C’s and providing an email address before being granting access to the internet. This can then be used for marketing purposes to contact guests after their have stay and gives a ROI for putting in the upgraded system.
The controller also gives you a floor plan of where each AP actually is, again improving management and maintenance. Load balancing can be configured if a particular AP is in a heavy utilised area compared to another. You have an option to send out logs and alerts via email, you can then be aware of any problems that have occurred.
The options and possibilities are numerous. If you are interested in having your current wireless network upgraded to a fully managed system that it is more robust, secure and easier to maintain then get in touch.