The fastest free Wi-Fi in the west

I realize Westerns aren’t exactly the most popular genre of novels or films these days, but I believe the following comparison still stands. Back in the Old West, the gunslinger who draws the fastest wipes out the competition. Replace the word “gunslinger” with “hotel Wi-Fi,” and the same can be applied nowadays.

I’ve harped endlessly in the past about the merits of offering free Wi-Fi to your guests, and I don’t feel as though there’s anything new to contribute to this debate. If you aren’t providing free Wi-Fi by now then you are doing your customers a serious disservice. Guests expect this for free much like they would heating, air conditioning and tap water (or at least, the costs buried into the nightly rate). It’s 2014, so get with the times.

But the times, they are a-changin’. It’s no longer just about offering complimentary Internet connectivity, but giving it out at a satisfactory speed. To comprehend why fast is just as important as free in this regard, you should first understand the theory of cognitive drift. The basic idea is that if a website takes too long to load, users lose interest. This varies based on patience levels, but I’d ballpark it for Millennials at around one to two seconds.

Many hotels now offer free Wi-Fi to customers — which is definitely a good thing — but slow connections frustrate people. They make them impatient. They make them feel like they are being slighted. Free Wi-Fi that’s slow rings of false advertising; you’re marketing a service to guests to get them through the door, but then you don’t sufficiently fulfill your end of the bargain.

I’m sure you can recall your emotions at a time when you were a victim of false advertising. It’s not great — hateful even. I doubt you’d want those feelings bestowed upon your property for something as small as failing to offer adequate free wireless connection rates. So, do yourself a favor and get up to speed (pun intended).

One other asterisk of note is the coming domination of smartphones and tablets for browsing, if this hasn’t happened already. I’m not one to tout endless numbers to prove my point, but if you were to look up any current statistics on the topics, no doubt you’d find these mobile devices represent a very sizeable portion of total Internet traffic in relation to laptops and desktops.

Seeing as how smartphones and tablets are wholly reliant on Wi-Fi or 3G/4G, this puts extra emphasis on getting your Internet running with enough bandwidth to support an abundance of users. Moreover, websites generally do not load quite as quickly on mobile devices as on computers, further driving home the need for lightning-fast Wi-Fi.

A potential solution

While delivering fast and free Wi-Fi to all your guests is a noble goal I’m sure every hotelier would love to see realized sooner rather than later, for many of us, it’s simply not feasible — not with our budgetary constraints and not with the way consumers voraciously gormandize bandwidth nowadays through the likes of streaming videos (e.g., Netflix) and gigabyte downloads (e.g., torrent files). We have to find a middle ground, a compromise as we ease into a world where free Internet connectivity becomes the expected norm. As discussing Wi-Fi always seems to make for an interesting debate, allow me to offer one potential solution to steer this dispute in hopes of finding said conciliation.

Another unrelated problem I see with the state of our industry pertains to the way OTAs are stealing our customers and cutting into our profit margins. Suppose you offer basic, slow Wi-Fi to all guests, but if guests book directly through you and not third-party websites, they get a complimentary Internet upgrade. It’s a little like killing two birds with one stone — a perk that satisfies guests’ need for fast access while also deterring future bookings through high commission vendors.

Your thoughts?