Room service

13 Aug 2003

Jurys Doyle, Ireland’s largest hotel chain, is embarking on an ambitious project to offer broadband internet access to its guests in their bedrooms. The service is aimed primarily at business travellers who want fast, low-cost internet access to check email, log on to their corporate network and browse the web.

Operating at speeds up to 512 kilobits per second, the service also provides wired and wireless internet access in the hotels’ conference rooms and public areas such as lobbies, bars and restaurants.

To date the service has been implemented in two Jurys Doyle Hotels with plans to roll out the service in other hotels over the coming months. In Dublin, the Jurys Inn Custom House has already deployed wired broadband, with 120 rooms offering the service. Jurys Inn, Newcastle has installed high-speed broadband access in all of its 274 rooms. The technology is currently being implemented in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin and in Jurys Inn, Glasgow.

A further three hotels currently being built in the UK and Ireland – in Leeds, Chelsea and Parnell St, Dublin – which are due to open in the first quarter of 2004 will all offer broadband internet access in all guest rooms. This will bring to seven the number of Jurys Doyle Hotels offering the service, representing some 2,000 rooms. Depending on the popularity of the service, it will then be extended to other hotels in the group.

While the service is not free to guests, the cost is reasonable: €10 per hour or €20 per 24-hour period. It is obviously not a coincidence that this is the amount charged by a number of rival hotels operating wireless hotspots.

Jurys Doyle expects the usage rate to be at about 5pc to begin with but to grow steadily as the service becomes established. In the US, the Jurys Hotel in Washington, DC, has offered broadband internet access in bedrooms for the past 18 months and the usage rate is now over 20pc. In many business hotels in the UK which offer broadband internet access in guest bedrooms usage has leapt from 5pc to between 12 and 15pc in just a year.

“Business guests want to be able to access information from as many places as possible, so alongside other office and commercial functions we need to be able to offer broadband internet access,” says Niall Geoghegan, sales and marketing director, Jurys Doyle Hotel Group. “This service gives Jurys Doyle Hotels the ability to offer a state-of-the-art service, while providing the hotel with additional revenue stream and giving us a competitive advantage.”

The contract to plan, deploy, manage and support high-speed broadband internet access for the hotel chain was won by InterFusion Networks, a Dublin-based network integration company. InterFusion already manages the day-to-day operation of the Jurys Doyle Hotel network across 30 sites in Ireland, the UK and the US and serving approximately 4,000 employees. In addition to planning and deploying high-speed broadband connectivity for guests of Jurys Doyle Hotels, this latest project also entails the management of a separate broadband network for the hotel group from InterFusion’s network operations centre in Ballymount, Dublin.

Commenting on the deal, Steve MacNicholas, business development director, InterFusion Networks says, “By deploying high quality, high performance internet access into guest rooms and conference rooms we can help Jurys Doyle Hotels leverage the full power of the internet and attract the lucrative business traveller.”

Although Wi-Fi or wireless networks have been installed by a number of hotels as a service to business customers, MacNicholas believes that the technology has serious limitations that make it unsuitable for deployment in guest rooms. “In a hotel you would need to deploy a massive number of base stations in order to provide coverage in all the bedrooms,” he explains. “Depending on the age of the hotel, thickness of the walls and so on you might need one base station for every three rooms. In a 400-room hotel that’s a lot of base stations.”

Another drawback of WiFi, he points out, is that only 25pc of laptops have a built-in wireless cards, whereas virtually all come with Ethernet cards, enabling them to plug into a hotel’s local network.

He identifies a third weakness with wireless networks, which is that the user often has to change the settings on their laptop in order to connect to the network. This is not the case with the service developed for Jurys Doyle. The system uses Cisco Systems’ Broadband Building Service Management (BBSM) platform, allowing users to connect to the internet without changing any parameters on their laptop or PDA. The solution is non-intrusive and utilises port identification technology so guests cannot see each other’s computer when logging on to the internet from a hotel room.

“The technology was designed with simplicity and convenience in mind,” says MacNicholas. “The ‘plug-n-play’ service allows guests to connect seamlessly without having to change their laptop or PDA settings. Guests can access their corporate networks on a reliable, secure connection that is always available, always on. Moreover, billing is 100pc automated and interfaces with the Fidelio billing management system used by Jurys so that the charge for the service automatically appears on guest bills when they check out.”

Although Irish hotels have been slow to offer broadband internet access to guests in their bedrooms, Niall Geoghegan firmly believes business travellers will not accept anything less from now on. “High-speed internet connectivity, once an amenity is now a necessity.”

By Brian Skelly

Pictured: Niall Geoghegan, sales and marketing director, Jurys Doyle Hotel Group (left) with Steve MacNicholas, business development director, InterFusion Networks.