We are living in a golden age of connectivity. Smartphones have become indispensable in our everyday lives, and for most millennials (and pretty much Gen Z) being digital natives have become almost second nature.
For the professionals and corporate road warriors, connectivity that enables them to stay productive while on the road is even more important, usually through free Wi-Fi provided by the hotels they stay at.
Secured Wi-Fi is key to Guest Experience
Today, free Wi-Fi has become critical to enhance the hotel guest experience, including for conferences and meetings, to help expedite the check-in process, or even for improved in-room experiences such as watching online streaming video instead of the free TV channels.
A recent survey about hotel Wi-Fi found that more than 90% of hoteliers frequently encounter guests seeking to connect more than one device. What’s more, over 90% of guest respondents indicated that the ability to access a hotel’s Wi-Fi is “very important,” while another 58% disclosed Wi-Fi service quality as being “highly likely” to impact their booking decisions.
The Asia-Pacific MICE industry generated revenue of US$229.0 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.6% to reach US$441.1 billion by 2025, driven by a rise in the tourism and hospitality sectors. The increase in number of business travellers that pass through hotels turn these properties into rich sources of credit card data. At the same time, hotel networks also likely see numerous trade secrets passing through with guests working from various locations throughout the property. As such, it is critical to ensure that hotel networks aren’t vulnerable to cyber-attacks by hackers.
Is Hotel Wi-Fi Secure?
Business travel is big business; a recent report values the business travel market size at US$1,266 billion in 2016, and this is projected to reach US$1,657 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 4.1% from 2017 to 2023. It is only logical that industry players are increasing investment in an effort to grab a larger share of this lucrative pie by adopting newer technologies to attract customers, such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices to create smarter hotel rooms, or even to provide better and faster Wi-Fi for visitors and guests.
However, this means that hotel IT teams also end up supporting a much greater number of endpoint devices, many of which are vulnerable to attack. This can include devices like smart door locks which many hotels are implementing as part of smarter check-in systems, or even Wi-Fi access points (APs) as tools to help distribute malware.
Securing your Hotel Networks, while ensuring an optimal guest experience
How then can hotels balance the user experience against the need to stay secure? Here are four things that hotel IT managers can do to secure their hotel networks, while also ensuring that the user experience for their guests isn’t negatively impacted.
- Implement role-based access control policies
IT administrators should start by making sure that guest Wi-Fi networks are only used by guests, and at the same time, internal networks aren’t accessible to the general public. That way, guests and their families can get onto much-needed Wi-Fi for all the devices that come with them, while the hotel’s internal management systems remain accessible only by hotel staff.
IT administrators can also authenticate all devices logging onto the hotel networks, whether issuing certificates to employees who require regular network access or providing guest login credentials that are both unique and refreshed regularly.
Role-based access can also be used to differentiate “tiers” of network access, such as standard free Wi-Fi access, or premium access tier for a fee, which unlocks greater bandwidth and transfer speeds.
- Managing network utilization through load balancing
As more guests carry multiple devices that access hotel Wi-Fi networks, IT managers now also need to contend with the increased load on their guest networks, while maintaining the overall user experience.
Putting in place load balancing capabilities ensures that the demands on the network from numerous connected devices are spread evenly, so that guests don’t end up accidentally impacting the hotel’s network connectivity and performance.
- Adopt the latest security and encryption standards, as well as hardware
The next step would be to adopt the latest security and encryption standards; this is particularly important for data in transit. Adopting security standards such as WPA3 (or WPA3-Enterprise), will go a long way to reduce man-in-the-middle attacks; for instance, making it tougher for hackers to steal data that a hotel guest may be emailing back to corporate headquarters.
At the same time, IT administrators should consider adopting newer technologies like Wi-Fi 6-enabled APs for their hotels, especially for parts of their properties that typically experience higher densities of users.
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) offers a four-fold increase in speed over its Wi-Fi 5 predecessor, enabling hotels to smoothly stream a range of guest applications including 4-8K video, VR/AR applications, and eSports games. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 can better support many devices and systems – including IoT infrastructure, smartphones, tablets, and laptops – in high-density environments such as hospitality rooms, convention centres, gyms and pools.
For hotels that are also deploying IoT solutions like wireless door locks, panic buttons and asset tracking, for example, solutions like the Ruckus IoT Suite leverages the cabling, switches and IoT-ready APs to create a converged, multi-standard IoT network—supporting the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Zigbee standards. This eliminates the need to overlay IoT networks, which typically require additional switches and gateways for each IoT device, driving up cost and complexity.
- Keeping an eye on data
IT administrators should also pay attention to all the data that is being collected, whether from the network itself, or from endpoint devices connected to the network. This can include customer loyalty programs, or data from all the smart devices in guest rooms. Obviously important to hotel operations, this data can also offer an insight into information such as guest preferences. Formulating procedures to properly manage and protect this data from unauthorized access is critical.
Ultimately, the business of hospitality is about making sure guests are well taken care of, and this includes providing Wi-Fi that’s not only free, but safe and secure to use. Otherwise, the potential hit to both the bottom line and reputation might end up a bitter pill to swallow.
Gary Newbold, vice president, Enterprise, Asia Pacific, CommScope