Wired To Go: High Tech Hotels For Road Warriors

By J. A. Hitchcock
As seen in LAPTOP magazine

You’re on the road, tired, in your hotel room and all that’s available for your laptop is either a dataport, or unplugging the telephone cord from the phone and into your laptop. Then you have to figure out: Do you need to dial an “8” or “9” for an outside line; do you need to include the area code; how much are local calls; does your Internet Service Provider have a local dial-up number? Once you have that sorted out, you wait what seems like forever for your modem to connect. Then, even if you have a 56k modem, you’re lucky if you connect at 24k.

By this time you’re probably screaming, “Aargh!” in frustration and wondering why you can’t get a faster connection.

Well, you can. Many of the larger hotel chains have installed high speed Internet; some have a few floors that offer it, others have it in all their guest rooms. So, when planning your next trip, whether for business or pleasure, check out the hotels in the area where you’re going before making reservations. Don’t count out the independent hotels, especially in smaller towns. You just never know where you’ll find high speed Internet.

The Larger Hotel Chains
Just because one hotel is “wired” doesn’t mean all the hotels in the chain will be. For example, Choice Hotels International (Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Clarion, Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn and MainStay Suites), is a franchisor and doesn’t currently own and operate the hotels themselves. This means that any decisions about high-speed Internet are made by the individual hotel owners.

“Choice is aware that high speed Internet is of keen interest to our franchisees,” says Dorothy Dee of Corporate Communications for Choice Hotels. “Choice currently has a relationship with Safety NetAccess, a Boston-based firm that provides high speed Internet, which is currently being rolled out.”

Other hotel chains where some or all of the hotels are independently owned include Holiday Inn, Marriott, Best Western, Hilton, Days Inn, and Howard Johnson.

A Wired Profile
One truly unique hotel is the Holiday Inn Wall Street, in - where else - New York City. Every room in the hotel has T1 connectivity through easy to use plug and play services. Plus, 66 rooms are equipped with desktop PCs featuring Microsoft Office applications.

If that doesn’t astound you, then this will – they have a S.M.A.R.T. FLOOR (Smart Machines Are Right There). This is like an office away from the office. Every guest room on this floor comes with wireless laptops, (with a travel case so that you can use the laptop in and outside of the hotel), color inkjet printers, T-1 Internet, use of the 24-hour Business Center, and more. But expect to pay for what you get – regular rooms start at $289 (plus taxes); a room on the S.M.A.R.T. FLOOR begin at $324 (plus taxes). But if you are a true technogeek, this is the place to stay when in New York City.

How To Find A High Tech Hotel
You could call every hotel in the yellow pages in the location you’ll be visiting, but that’s time consuming; do a search online first. Try something a little different – visit the Web sites of the various high speed Internet services that hotels use instead, such as:

STSN is one of the larger providers of high speed Internet for hotels worldwide. Hotels using STSN include Amerisuites, Comfort Inn, Embassy Suites, Hilton, Doubletree, Marriott, Radisson, Residence Inn and Ritz-Carlton. They service almost 500 locations in the USA (over 100 in California alone), plus Australia, Canada, Asia, and Europe.

You’ll find a plastic bag in the closet of your room that holds all the necessary cables, instructions and a CD-ROM.

Don’t worry if you don’t have an Ethernet card in your laptop – if it has a USB port (running Windows® 98 or later), you can use the USB port on the STSN box, or you can borrow an Ethernet card from the front desk. The CD-ROM has the USB driver on it, making for a quick and easy installation. One note of warning, though – the STSN USB driver is currently not compatible with Windows XP.

Over 70 hotels across the country offer fast and easy plug-and-play broadband Internet called GlobalNet for guests, without requiring special software or system reconfigurations. Most of the hotels listed on their web site include the service in the room rate, so it’s essentially free. Included is reliable virtual LAN (VLAN) and firewall security for the network and wireless accessibility in public areas of the hotel with GlobalRoam™.
Guest-Tek services are also available in 68 hotels in Canada, plus hotels in Australia, France and Bermuda.

Over 50 hotels have what’s called the “Notebook Solution” by InnConnection:

The High-Speed Notebook Port is a small device you’ll find on the desk in your room. It plugs directly into the telephone jack and provides simultaneous connections for both the telephone and laptop, so that you can use both at once.

To use, simply insert the cable (usually included in the room) from the Notebook Port into your laptop Ethernet adapter. There is no extra configuration necessary.

Also in some hotels is Inn-Connections Wireless Internet, in the hotel’s public areas. Just request the service from the front desk (for an extra charge), insert the GTC Wireless Internet card into your laptop (if you don’t have one) and you’re connected.

Seven hotels currently carry this wireless (802.11b) service:

Each hotel offers a wireless PCMCIA card to use if you don’t have one, or a RoomLinX transceiver if you do not have or choose not to install a wireless Ethernet card. The RoomLinX Plug & Play System adapts to your network settings so that no configuration is necessary. You pay for access on a 24-hour billing period; each hotel has different rates, so call in advance.

What’s nice about these hotels is that you can use the wireless network anywhere in the hotel – your room, the restaurant, the lobby, etc.

One of the newer services offering instant Internet with no settings to change, no IP addresses to obtain, and no subnets or gateways to negotiate to properly configure your laptop for use. Simply plug into the Ethernet port in the room, or enter into a designated zone for wireless access, and you’re immediately connected.

Some of the hotels who offer AccessNow include: C

Visit www.ositis.com for more information (at date of publication, listings of hotels using AccessNow wasn’t available).

Other Alternatives
If you travel quite a bit to some of the larger cities in the USA, then consider these two options:

More than 450 hotels in the USA, including Hilton, Sheraton, Doubletree, Wyndham, Four Season, Radisson, Good Nite Inn, and independent hotel or smaller hotel chains are part of the Wayport network, as well as major airports (also locations in Canada and Europe). A full list can be found here.

Wayport offers in-room high speed Internet, as well as wireless (802.11b) Internet in the public areas of the hotels (and at participating airports).

Hotels typically charge $9.95 per day (this may vary by location) for unlimited high-speed Internet in guest rooms or wireless in the public areas of the hotel, valid from purchase time until hotel check-out time (charged to your credit card or hotel bill.)

Wayport also offers Prepaid Connection Cards you can use at any participating hotel or airport. The $25 card gives you three connections and 25% off workstation charges at Wayport's Laptop Lane locations in seven airports (it’s like an oversized telephone booth, allowing for complete privacy while surfing the Internet;).

Each connection gives you unlimited high-speed Internet in one location from purchase time until check-out time (in hotels) or until midnight (in airports).

Purchase Prepaid Connection Cards at Wayport's 13 Laptop Lane locations and by calling toll-free 877-929-3277. There are also other service plans available at their Web site.

You need: A laptop, pocket PC or handheld device with Wi-Fi 802.11b wireless capability.

Even though they have over 1,200 locations (most are in airports and Starbucks, but there are some in hotels), there are less than 25 states that offer MobileStar wireless connectivity (see location map).

MobileStar also offers prepaid plans starting at $20 for 120 nationwide minutes (you can order online, refills, too). They also offer monthly plans if you expect to use the service frequently. If you’re still not sure, they have a risk-free, 30 day free trial of the monthly plan.

No Laptop?
If, for whatever reason, you leave home without your laptop, PDA or web-enabled cell phone, there is still hope for you. A company called PayStar offers Internet kiosks in the lobbies of over 3,200 Choice hotels, which includes Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Clarion, Quality, Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn and MainStay Suites. You pay 25 cents a minutes to surf the Internet, check your e-mail, etc (there is a $1.00 minimum of four minutes).

PayStar predicts that by 2005, there will be over 500,000 of these Internet Access Machines (ITMs) in the USA alone. That’s good news for those who forget or leave the laptops at home, or are at an airport and checked the laptop in their baggage. Even if you did remember to bring your laptop, you might want to check one of these out if it’s in the hotel you’re staying at - PayStar's Cyber Concierge offers complimentary information and discounts on local dining, entertainment and attractions.

A Quick Recap
What to be ready for when you stay at a wired (or wireless) hotel:
- Make sure your laptop has an Ethernet-capable card installed and/or a wireless card (either installed inside the laptop or a PCMCIA card you can insert in the modem slot – the latter can be had for as little as $79 retail)
- Bring an Ethernet cable, just in case there isn’t one available at the hotel or in your room (a 7-ft cable costs around $7.99)
- If you stay in a hotel that isn’t wired/wireless, make sure you have a telephone cord to plug into the dataport on the room telephone (a 20-ft retractable telephone cord is compact and runs around $15-20)
Finally, don’t forget to call ahead to find out if the hotel you want to stay at offers high-speed Internet. If they don’t, consider finding a hotel that does. Just think – no more “crawling” on the net when you’re on the road. . .you’ll be speed-surfing.

Some of the hotel chains that offer high speed Internet include:

Marriott International
According to Scott Carman, Manager of Media Relations, “Marriott leads the hotel industry in offering guests high-speed Internet, with more than 110,000 guest rooms and more than 400 hotels installed. Guests use of high-speed Internet nearly doubled at Marriott's hotels during the first six months of 2002. More than 20,000 rooms in 75 additional hotels will be installed by the end of 2002 across the Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard and Residence Inn brands.”
Marriott uses STSN, which works with any Internet-compatible laptop and doesn’t require any special accessories. Guests also get 24-hour, toll-free customer assistance.
The cost is different for each hotel, but ranges from $9.95-$12.95 per 24 hour period, beginning at the time you order the service from your room.
“Because the service has been so well received by business travelers, we are expanding the service,” Carman added.

Wingate Inns
This is one of the more popular chains because it offers FREE high-speed Internet connections in every guest room and rates start at just $69 a night. They have locations in 34 states, plus Canada.

Loews Hotels
Just about all of the 17 locations (over 2,200 guest rooms) offer wired and/or wireless high speed Internet through for $10.99 per day. If you don’t have an Ethernet card, you can purchase a package from the hotel. Wireless (Wi-Fi - 802.11b) is available in the common areas only, including the lobby, restaurants and pool area.

Approximately 15% of Radisson hotels in the USA have high speed Internet in the guest room, so it’s best to ask when you make a reservation. Depending on the location, the service is either included in the room rate or a separate charge ranging from $9.95/12.95 per day.

Golden Tree Communications conducted an independent electronic survey among guests using an Inn-Connections service available to them free at the hotel they were staying at:
- 79% surveyed were business travelers.
- Average Internet usage was 6.42 days per week.
- 85% agreed that a free Internet appliance/access in their rooms made that hotel their primary choice for the area
- 87% preferred that the cost of high-speed Internet be included in their room charge versus a pay-per-use basis.
- $5.67 was the fair premium for this service determined by the hotel guests surveyed

Questions To Ask When Making A Reservation
1. Does the hotel offer high speed Internet?
2. If yes, is it included in the room rate or is there an extra charge?
3. If there is a charge, what is it and how long of a period does that cover
4. Are cables provided? If not, what do you need to bring with you to use the service?
5. Do they have access via USB? (Some hotels offer this, and even provide the software and cable to make it work; if your laptop doesn’t have a USB port, it’s time to upgrade to a newer laptop.)
6. Does the hotel offer wireless Internet?
7. If yes, is that only in common areas (the lobby, pool, garden, etc), or in the rooms as well?
8. Do you need a special card to use their wireless service?
9. Do you need an account with a company such as Mobilestar to use the wireless service or does the hotel offer the service in-house?
10. What are the rates for wireless service?

J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at jahitchcock.com.

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