The Wi-Fi blame game

After his latest European adventure, columnist Jonathan Spira says even when Wi-Fi service providers are at fault, hotels are really the ones to blame.

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To read Pt. 1 of Jonathan's column, click here.

This week we continue...

The fun part here was the technical support call to Swisscom eurospot. The kindly front desk manager placed the call, discovering that tech support spoke no German -- only English (the provider is Swisscom, by the way).

About the author

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and chief analyst at Basex, an analysis firm specializing in collaborative business knowledge in the enterprise. Click hereto contact Basex.

 I took over and found that the person on the other side didn't speak English terribly well either. Compounding the problem was a two-second satellite or VoIP delay in the voice call, which meant he could not hear me half the time, and I could not hear him.

He wrote down my account number and password incorrectly, left me on hold numerous times while checking on things (the front desk manager suggested that the hold time was a conspiracy to get customers to hang up; after all, how many times could you hear the first 20 seconds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons).

For some strange reason, he could not identify the hotel I was in, even though my login was purchased there. He also could not find my hotel's name in their system, instead asking if I was at the Express Holiday Inn.

Despite professing not to know which hotel I was in, he did tell me that the system was up and running, advising further that no one was surfing at the time. Finally, he came back and I could hear him, but he could not hear me at all. After about 20 "hellos" I heard a click.

He had hung up on me. The wait was over. I had lost, specifically, more than an hour and a half of my evening. The manager led me to a computer in the hotel's offices, and I checked my mail via a Web browser. Since it was late on Friday, e-mail was mercifully light. He also gave me a telephone to use (remember, no VoIP).

Having Internet access in a hotel is no longer a luxury, but is as basic a necessity as a telephone.
Jonathan Spira,

 My adventure with technology was not completely over at that point; upon returning to the room, I found that the heat would not turn on. Having heat was "mission critical," as Munich was having its coldest winter in 20 years (overnight temperatures at the airport a few days earlier reached -25°C).

Quite optimistically, I returned to the Lobby Bar late the next morning. My optimism was rewarded; once again, connectivity was mine. One of the first things I did was to send Swisscom Eurospot a note asking them to refund my 5,-   fee. The reply I received was telling: "We checked your Swisscom Eurospot Voucher and as indeed I could see that you got the wrong signal I am pleased to inform you that your refund request has been accepted."

Having Internet access in a hotel is no longer a luxury, but is as basic a necessity as a telephone. Unlike how it handles its telephone system, the hospitality industry by and large outsources Internet connectivity, sometimes even to multiple providers (e.g. wired access in rooms via one provider; Wi-Fi access in public areas and meeting rooms via another).

But telephone systems tend to keep working, day in and day out, while Internet connectivity solutions apparently do not. In fact, as more mobile knowledge workers come to rely on VoIP telephony, no connectivity can mean no phone.

Hotel management seems ready with the explanation that it's not the hotel but the access provider that's at fault when an outage occurs. But that does little to soothe the savage guest, who needs to read his e-mail or participate in an online conference.

The manager of my hotel commented that mine was not the first problem reported to him in recent weeks, and he recalled the previous problems I had had in earlier visits. In fact, hotel management had scheduled a meeting for the following week to discuss what could be done.

The resolve is simple: hotels need to insist on service level agreements with five nines uptime, and an expedited problem resolution mechanism. After all, the guest may or may not know (or care) who Swisscom eurospot is, but he'll remember that the Westin, Hilton, Kempinski, Intercontinental, or Ritz-Carlton had unreliable Net access.

Fortunately on the return trip, again via London-Heathrow, I ventured into the Diners Club-Servisair lounge in Terminal 3. This time, iPass connected almost immediately.

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