Now, meetings are likely to include streaming video and online interaction. And back in their rooms, travelers are downloading movies and logging onto peer-to-peer networks.
Event organizers and hotels and conference centers are struggling to keep up and prevent Internet gridlock. “We’ve known for a long time that bandwidth was going to be an issue in hotels,” said Don O’Neal, a hotel technology consultant.
Erika Powell, a meeting planner for Global Knowledge, a company that provides software training to corporate clients, said she was recently forced to move an event because the hotel’s Internet connection could not keep up with her group’s demands.
“On Monday, we started getting reports that the Internet was very slow and they weren’t able to access the labs,” she said. “We communicated with the facility to find out what the problem was, but they were at a loss.” Ms. Powell said she had to pull up stakes and relocate her students to another nearby hotel in the middle of the week so their training could be completed without slowdowns.
As recently as a few years ago, a type of connection called a T1 line was the norm for most hotels. With speeds of 1.5 megabits a second, it was robust enough for e-mail and Web browsing. (By comparison, an average at-home cable modem offers three to five megabits a second.)
The advent of cheap, user-friendly — but bandwidth-heavy — streaming video technology changed the status quo drastically. Demand at hotels and convention centers has spiked, as businesses add videoconferencing to their meetings and guests download media. Adding to the logjam, hotel managers are moving toward Web-based tools for managing back-of-the-house departments, using more bandwidth, too.
Most business hotels now have added more T1s or a T3 (also referred to as a DS3), which accommodates 28 T1s of traffic. Other hotels are installing fiber optics, which also offer large bandwidth capacity. Many of these new systems are what technology specialists term burstable, meaning they have a typical six or eight megabit-a-second rate of transmission but are capable of sustaining many times that amount of traffic if necessary.
At the new Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, technology administrators merged the hotel’s various data networks into a single supernetwork. This consolidation means groups with high bandwidth requirements can tap unused guest room or administrative capacity without having to switch networks and have their service interrupted, said Page Petry, senior vice president for information resources, North American Lodging Field Services for Marriott International, Renaissance’s parent company.
For Maura Sutherland, this bandwidth access was a major selling point. As a senior manager of corporate marketing forAkami Technologies, she recently brought 300 customers from around the world to the Renaissance. She said the hotel was able to partition off bandwidth for her group’s exclusive use, which included high-definition video streaming.
“We were using 60 megs at any given time because we had over 20 partners demonstrating their technology,” Ms. Sutherland said. “The purpose of having these meetings is really to showcase what our customers are doing online.” In keeping customers like Ms. Sutherland happy, it is not enough for hotels to consider how much bandwidth they have. They also have to deal with whether they can ration it. A growing number of hotels have invested in software that allows them to assign bandwidth to various parts of the hotel.
“We have 175 meeting destination properties and upwards of 90 percent of those are capable of dedicating bandwidth,” said Brennan Gildersleeve, senior director of guest and in-room technology for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. “Three years ago, I would say it would have been around 50 percent. So the trend is very clear.”
Nick Price, chief information officer and chief technology officer for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, said that bandwidth has been doubling year over year. “Bandwidth consumption by meeting groups in North America is significantly higher than anywhere else in the world.”
The demand at convention centers has escalated as well. “Our customers are expecting an in-home experience when they travel,” said John Adams, general manager of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and a senior vice president for the western region of the convention center management firm SMG. “Technology changes so quickly, and meetings have become increasingly more interactive.”
The annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which will be held Jan. 8-11, bears this out. Exhibitors at the show used 353 Internet connections in 2008, up from 51 in 1999. With a projected attendance of more than 130,000, thousands of people may be logging onto the network to check their e-mail at any time, for instance, and the demand for video is similarly strong. In addition, many trade show organizers now use Web-based registration systems to process their attendees, which takes more bandwidth.
“The demands of what the exhibitors are using the Internet to do have grown,” said Karen Chupka, senior vice president for events and conferences for the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces the show. “Five or six years ago, it might have been to pull up their Web site. Now, it’s streaming video.”
Source – The New York Times