Internet 'Super Highway' - now in a hotel near you
Be sure to ask for -
and insist on - hotels that provide convenient and
affordable high speed internet access in their rooms.
Dating back long before Al Gore
invented the internet (!), road warriors have wrestled with the
problems connecting a traveling computer through a hotel phone
line and back to their home office.
Fortunately, technology has
marched positively forward, and such challenges are receding.
At last these issues seem to
be resolved. Read on and rejoice!
At Last - Truly Convenient
Major improvements in DHCP
servers and clients (don't bother if you don't know what these
are - the wonderful thing about them is that you don't need to
know what they are!) mean that configuring a computer to access
the internet at different locations is now, for most people and
most of the time, a totally automatic event that requires no
action on your part.
Simply unplug the network
cable from the office, and plug in the network cable wherever
you next are, and - if things are well designed - you're
instantly connected again. You don't need to change
configurations from one network environment to another and back
again. Wow. An extravagant and exciting promise.
But how accurate is the
reality? I have vivid memories of the 'bad old days' - dating
way back to the time of 300 baud modems, TRS100 'computers' and
non-modular hotel room phones that had to be dissected with
special tools in order to get a dial tone for the computer to
use. More recently, the earlier generation of in-room high speed
access services required complicated special software and/or
adapters that all seemed too risky and difficult to use - I
ignored them entirely.
High speed hotel access
kindly arranged for me to check in to a local hotel and
experience their system as if I were a normal hotel guest.
After checking into the
typically appealing Marriott Residence Inn room, I sat down at
the well equipped desk, complete with phone and desk lamp with
spare power outlets in its base. Excellent - no crawling around
behind sofas, and no agonizing over which items to unplug in
order to power up the laptop! And a nice adjustable desk chair
to work from. So far so good - a great work environment.
On the desktop was STSN's
small interface box, looking a bit reminiscent of a modem. It
had three outlets on its front - labeled as an Ethernet outlet,
a USB outlet, and a regular phone line for a modem. Lift up its
cover and a series of flip pages explained details of the
service. I resolved to try and connect without reading the (very
brief and simple) instructions!
Cords, as explained on a
prominent help card alongside, were indeed in a plastic bag in
the closet - one each phone, USB and ethernet cable. I took the
Ethernet cable, plugged it in to the box and the laptop, turned
on the laptop, and - could it be this simple? Yes! I was online
immediately! (In the event of having any problems, STSN provide
a 24/7 (800) help desk to quickly solve any problems you might
Three Ways (sort of) to Connect
The connection box gives you
a choice of three ways to get online. If you already have an
Ethernet card in your computer, then the best option is the
Ethernet LAN connection.
If you don't have an
Ethernet NIC in your laptop, then your second choice is the USB
interface. STSN supply a driver CD-rom - simply load the driver,
then connect the USB cable instead of the Ethernet cable, and,
once again - instant high speed access!
But if you have neither of
these interfaces, then you're reduced to using a normal modem
and dialup connection. To help such people, STSN also provide a
regular analog phone line jack on their connection box, although
you then need to dial your regular ISP and connect as you
normally would, not using any element of the STSN high speed
How Fast is Fast?
STSN explained that their
hotels all have a minimum of a T1 feed to the internet - this is
approximately 1.5 Mb/sec (and in both directions simultaneously,
unlike your modem which either sends or receives, but never does
both at once). So, compared to say a 45kb dialup line, their T1
feed is almost 70 times faster. And due to the 'bursty' nature
of internet access, a single T1 line can easily service more
than 150 users simultaneously and still give much faster than
modem speeds to all users (because few users fully use maximum
bandwidth, much of the time). Assuming that no more than one
third of hotel guests are connected and using the service at any
time, that suggests a single T1 line could perhaps service up to
a 500 room hotel.
I downloaded a 10MB test
file and observed an effective 350kb transfer rate. This might
have meant that lots of other people in the hotel were all
sharing the T1 line, or it might have simply been network
congestion elsewhere on the internet. But, to put this into
perspective, it was still eight times or more faster than I'd
have got from a dialup line. Websites opened very quickly, and
email was easy to send and receive.
Bottom line - it truly is
fast. Definitely much faster than dialup, and much easier, too.
Email and Printing
Now for an amazingly clever
thing. Of course receiving email was simple, and so too is
sending email if going through a web-based interface (such as
Hotmail or Yahoo).
But if you are sending email
through a proper email client (eg Outlook or Outlook Express)
you need to be able to tell it about the email 'SMTP' server
that you use to send mail. Your normal office smtp server is
usually unavailable for sending email from outside of the local
LAN. And so STSN has done a very clever thing - it automatically
detects outgoing emails (due to the TCP port the traffic is sent
via) and redirects the message through one of its outgoing mail
servers, without you needing to mess with your mail client
settings at all. Amazing, and shows a very well thought out
STSN advise that they are
rolling out a new service that will enable you to easily connect
to a hotel printer that is on the same network if you need to
print out documents, extending the internet access into a total
Bottom Line - How Much Does it
Prices vary from hotel to
hotel, and are usually based on a flat daily charge, giving you
unlimited access for a 24 hour period that typically runs from
midday to midday. The highest I've seen is $10.95/day - still
less than the cost of watching a movie on the room's television.
If you're a heavy internet user, or if dialup access is
otherwise expensive or inconvenient, even at this appreciable
cost it is still a great value and essential service and just
one of the many costs associated with traveling away from your
office. Good news - most hotels don't then add all the
outrageous taxes on top of this charge.
Some Marriott hotels now
have a great value $9.95 a day package that includes unlimited
internet service plus also unlimited long distance calling. And
a few top end hotels offer the internet access for 'free' (in
other words, it is just invisibly included in the daily room
rate you pay).
High speed internet access
presents as a huge profit opportunity for hotels, as well as a
huge benefit and
much asked for amenity for their guests. It really is a
win-win for all concerned.
At a time when hotels are
seeking new and innovative ways to nickel and dime us - their
guests - every which way, you'd think that they'd be embracing
the concept of offering a truly value added service - high speed
internet access - with open arms. The service that they sell for
as much as $10 or more a day to their guests can cost them as
little as 50c a day to provide, with no need for upfront capital
commitments on their part; and even less if they invest in the
equipment themselves rather than get a turnkey package from an
internet service supplier.
Make sure you ask about high
speed internet access next time you check in to a hotel - better
still, selectively book only hotels that offer this feature.
! WARNING !
Some hotels use digital
phone lines. If you try and connect your modem to such a phone,
you may destroy your modem. Before connecting your modem to any
unknown phone line, use a line tester (see here or here) to
check that the line is a safe analog line.
Fast and convenient direct
internet access is now a reality in a growing number of hotels.
The STSN service is every bit as good as their claims, and is
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27 Sep 2002, last update
20 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.