November 04, 2010, 11:34 AM — In the hotel business, Wi-Fi reliability can be the difference between getting guests or not.
For the 350-room Sheraton Springfield in Mass., an older Wi-Fi network was giving spotty coverage to its guests, so the hotel recently upgraded to new technology from Meru Networks that has passed an initial walk-through with flying colors.
Sheraton installed 61 new AP1000i access points in the past month and only yesterday finished a walk-through test that showed it has covered earlier gaps in coverage, Paul Picknelly, president of the Sheraton Springfield, told Computerworld. Picknelly used Kelser, the integrator on the project, which recommended Meru's gear.
"In the hospitality business, access to Wi-Fi is almost our No. 1 request, and guests make decisions on whether a hotel has adequate Wi-Fi service," Picknelly said. "We had noticed Wi-Fi issues with our guests not having the best connectivity, so we brought in Kelser."
The Meru network at the hotel cost about $50,000, including installation, for 61 access points and a Meru controller located in the hotel's data center , he said.
The cost was almost the same as what the hotel spent to upgrade its business center with new computers and printers, but having a solid Wi-Fi network lends more value to the business center, he said. The hotel charges some guests $9.95 a night for Wi-Fi, although many regular business users get it for free.
Business and conference guests use Wi-Fi for connecting to e-mail and VPNs, as well as video and other presentations. Tourists on the weekends download movies and run Skype video chats on their laptops as well.
Picknelly said Meru's new gear supports all flavors of 802.11 a/b/g/n and is considered somewhat future-ready. "We wanted to make sure we had capabilities for new technologies, including video chat," he said. "You never know what's coming with networking and the changes are coming monthly. I think video chat is going to be very popular in a year or two."
Sheraton was an early customer for the new Meru AP1000i access points, which start at $395 for a single radio version, and will be generally available in December.
Meru officials said Meru's controller-based architecture helps keep roaming laptop users over Wi-Fi persistently connected to the network, as compared with many other Wi-Fi networks.