Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Bandwidth

I came across a post on The Unofficial Apple Weblog today about hotels and bandwidth. I have  no idea why we continually get caught with fixed quantities of bandwidth. It didn’t take long for the first iPhone to be out before AT&T started bitching about how much bandwidth people were using. Now that the iPad is getting incredibly popular, hotels are complaining.

Business travelers are using their iPads to travel, stream video, and work. I’m not sure how much better the iPad 2 is than the iPad 1. I have an iPad 1, and though it’s really cool and great for reading and casual browsing, I’m not ready to leave my laptop at home yet.

Most hotels offer a pretty basic Comcast or DSL solution with wireless routers and repeaters. Yeah, it’s pretty bad. I’ve stayed at so called business hotels and had to keep calling down to ask them to reboot the router. I came back to a hotel from a meeting one time with the action to send the minutes and some documents out. It was over an hour before the hotel got their connection working long enough for me to do that. To complicate the problem, I did have a BlackBerry with tethering, but let’s just say I was in an area where you “couldn’t hear me now”. Verizon seems to pick hotels with the worst Internet connection and skip putting towers nearby.

So hotels are faced with either staying with relatively cheap Internet access, or adding a better service and charging for it.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I already pretty much hate the hospitality industry, especially airlines and hotels. I don’t understand how they can charge everybody a different price for the exact same product. Two seats next to each other on an airplane can vary hundreds of dollars based on the time of the month each traveller bought the ticket or which discounts were available. In a previous job when I was a contractor to the Navy, the Navy civilians I was travelling with booked a flight for about $500 at the government rate. U.S. Airways was going to charge me $1500 for the same flight. I rented a car and drove. Even though the cost was reimbursable, screw you, U.S. Airways. I hope you sold the ticket real cheap you bastards. I don’t like U.S. Airways, but living in the Philly area there are few options. Then on top of the ticket, they nickel and dime the crap out of you. $2 for crappy coffee (screw you, U.S. Airways, screw you very much). Now they’re charging for carry ons. How long until the bathrooms on the plane are coin operated? For all I know, they are. I haven’t flown in a while, and don’t plan to.

I see hotels as little better. Prices for comparable hotel rooms can vary wildly based on whether you’re government, AAA, whatever that old people association is (I don’t feel like looking it up), or just coming in off the street. I don’t get it. I’ve had hotel clerks give me the AAA discount (I’m not a member) either because they were in a good mood or liked my face or something. When booking a flight or hotel room, I always feel like I’m in a bazaar in the U.A.E. or something. I always feel like we should be haggling at the top of our lungs:

Me: “$150 a night! You insult my intelligence. I wouldn’t pay $80 for two queens and a view of the parking lot!.”

Hotel: “You’re stealing food out of the mouths of my children!”

Except this is usually done online. Try it. Get an account on a hotel website, put in dates and guests, then experiment with the various discounts available. You don’t have to purchase. Just close the tab when you’re done. But book a room at a Marriot Courtyard (one of my favorites) and see what the difference is being government, AAA, senior, and nobody. It can vary wildly. Try a few different hotels.

I’ve gotten hotel rooms for $100 a night, and found that sign just inside the door say the room goes for $259 a night.

I have access to the University of Phoenix library (alumni; membership has it’s privileges) and I’ve been meaning to read some of their hospitality curriculum books to see how or why this is justified. But with all the other stuff I have to read, I haven’t gotten to it yet.

So now that hotels have you in, they’re doing what the airlines do: hitting you with fee after fee. There are those silly “resort fees” at most hotels now. Resort fee? Really? It could be the middle of December, you stayed 2 nights and used 1 towel, but you have to pay a “resort fee”. The fancy hotels are the worst. I stayed at the Marriot Renaissance in Boston once. There were 6 oz bottles of water on top of the fridge, with a note informing you that for your convenience, they would add a $4 charge for each bottle you drink. I started checking the toilet paper for similar notices.

And so, since bandwidth is considered a fixed quantity, hotels may begin charging you for it. You’ll either have to pay a fixed fee just to use the Internet, or a tiered plan based on how much you plan to use.

I don’t get why bandwidth is considered a fixed quantity. As an IT manager, I’m trained to do a little planning. Let’s see, hotel CIO goes “We’re a business hotel. That means we get a lot of business travellers. Apple is about to release the iPad4, which sucks 20 GB a second just syncing the clock. Hmm, I sense a disturbance in the force. Looks like our Comcast Small business and single Linksys router might not support that. What IT business investment can we make to mitigate a huge problem down the road?”

But nobody does that. They just let the problem happen, and then find someone else to blame. It’s kind of like how Windows can spend 2 years in an open beta, but on the day of release, Norton, McAfee, HP, and Apple act like it’s the first they’ve heard of it. “New Windows? What? Nobody told us that. Well, it’ll be at least 6 months before iTunes or your inkjet printer can be supported on it. Don’t upgrade. Stay with XP.”

Don’t feel bad; my organization does little planning either. That’s why like everybody else, we’re still running Windows XP. Sure, in my office, we do that kind of planning, or at least discussing it, but the people doing the real CPIC (Capital Planning and Investment Control) don’t seem to. At one point, I was a non-voting member of the Change Control Board.

That was fun. If you travel heavily for business, and use an iPad, are you willing to pay a hotel more for the Internet connection? Do you wonder why most service providers seem to act surprised over news we’ve known about for months?

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