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Simple and affordable high speed access for the Road Warrior.

It is rare to find computer services that are fully thought out and truly simple.

But the best of breed new hotel high speed internet access services are indeed fully 'bulletproof' and make connecting to the internet simple and instantaneous.

 
 
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The 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 Internet Access

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 provider STSN 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 have.)

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 service.

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 total service.

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 business solution.

Bottom Line - How Much Does it Cost

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.

Summary

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 highly recommended.

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Originally published 27 Sep 2002, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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