Hospitality Communications in the Digital Age

The success of hospitality communications is riding on how well we interpret the past, adapt in the present and prepare for the future.
By Dave George, Chief Technologist and President of Pryme Radio - 7.15.2019

An epiphany occurred while researching my annual communications forecast—history is integral to future development.  Trends projected long ago are now past, yet they paved the way to the present and will set the stage for what’s to come as communications continue to evolve, particularly in the hospitality sector where changes have progressed more rapidly than other industries.

Land Mobile to Mobile Communications

Land mobile radio (LMR) was once the predominant form of communications in the hotel business.  However, range and audio quality shortcomings, as well as cost prohibitive infrastructure, eventually forced the adoption of alternative technologies. In 1996, the first commercial push-to-talk (PTT) service over cellular infrastructure (PoC) was introduced in the U.S. and users began augmenting LMR devices with PTT applications on smartphones, which often could communicate with radio systems when radios couldn’t.  The hospitality segment was one of the earliest adopters of these technologies.

Since then, PTT has continued to mature, primarily driven by the advent of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, which evolved from digital narrowband technologies and its analog predecessor. In the lodging industry, communications can range from simple guest requests to full-scale emergencies, and myriad in between. Early adopters of PoC by integrating the use of smartphones and tablets optimized by advanced PTT accessories have not only achieved more seamless communications, but reduced operating costs by leveraging existing Wi-Fi infrastructure. In addition. it’s given many hotel properties an extra competitive edge, which is one of the key contributing factors to the industry’s rapid transition from LMR to PoC systems.

It’s All About the Experience

On the whole, the hospitality industry has been fraught with technology deficiencies in disparate areas, which affect efficiency, productivity and profits. Thus, the trend toward merging communications with other hotel operations under one solution, including safety, tracking, monitoring, etc. Luckily, smarter and more all-encompassing applications are emerging every day. Now, not only can these apps integrate hotel operations, many can also deliver instant voice and text messaging as well.

These days, most hoteliers are focused on using every available technology to enhance and hyper-personalize guest experience. Multi-purpose communication devices can help transform customer service from good to superior. Plus, the benefits extend beyond guests to include employee experience as well.  By consolidating programs into single hands-free communication devices, staff equipment and workloads are lightened.

Consumer dependency on mobile devices has pushed integrated messaging to even higher levels.  A few years ago, major messaging platforms introduced chatbots and hotels began offering messaging services for guests.  Now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered chatbots that all but eliminate human interaction and appear completely natural, will further boost guest experience. However, few hoteliers, have realized the full potential for this burgeoning technology. As AI becomes more sophisticated, independents and chains will find new ways to enhance every phase of the travel/stay experience.

Regardless of smarter applications, purpose-built intuitive devices and more efficient communications technologies, it takes powerful network services to make it all work.

Stream of Next Evolution Networks

My philosophy is it’s all about the network. Virtually all properties now have robust Wi-Fi networks, but these could be augmented by 5G mobile broadband services, which is really just a super-fast version of 4G.  Because there’s always another network coming around the corner, I prefer to call it “the next evolution network.”  We’ve come a long way since analog.  Digital narrowband, Third Generation (3G), Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Internet of Things (IoT) are just a handful of next evolution networks that have arisen over the years.  The existing Wi-Fi network is basically free, but it is also vulnerable to hacking, interference and failure. Therefore, important network functions will utilize back up and redundant services such as LTE/4G/5G.

As IoT-based smart home technologies become more entrenched in everyday life, consumers will expect similar, if not smarter capabilities from hotel rooms. Biometric technologies are already used to simplify guest processes, but soon in-room voice assistance will become a mandatory offering. In addition to AI, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) enhancements continue to rise, integrating new features into hotel apps, area maps and more. To fulfill increasingly elaborate technological demands, the lodging industry will need to synchronize underlying systems and support them with reliable connectivity.

This brings us back to why I believe it’s all about the network.

Monitoring, Measuring, and Sensing

IoT Telemetry is next in line for fifteen minutes of fame. Telemetry predates the Internet of Things by many years. The word is derived from Greek roots: tele, meaning remote, and metron, meaning measure.  An apt name to describe this automated communications process for collecting measurements and other data from remote places to monitor and analyze.

Sensors play a key role in telemetry as a source of data input. Experiential telemetry is already being used in hospitality to gather data for improving guest experience. Now, real-time instant feedback platforms give hotels a direct line of communication with guests to help address specific needs and deepen relationships. The recent arrival of higher quality facial recognition enables hotels to monitor guest emotions, while robots equipped with radar and sensors add yet another dimension to the customer service experience.

Meanwhile, I see early stage development of new sensor peripherals that will enhance the usefulness of smart devices.  To help provide privacy and security, most likely many of these sensor enhancements could be “tethered” to the specific guest’s communications device.  If using 5G or other wireless networks, it’s no longer necessary for the property to maintain Wi-Fi modems/routers for critical guest services, and for most other services, short range communications that talk directly to the guest’s smart device would suffice. This could dramatically reduce the complexity and cost of sensors.

Where does IoT fit in to telemetry?  Though the current data rate may be fairly low for reading measurements like room temperature, once there are hundreds or thousands of devices in play, suddenly it becomes big data, which is IoT territory.  Just as other aspects of communications are evolving, so have the opportunities for IoT and telemetry.

Then, Now and the Future

Never satisfied with the status quo, the communications industry is constantly striving to surpass itself and build a bigger, better mousetrap, or network as the case may be.  As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” which we continuously strive to improve upon. The success of hospitality communications is riding on how well we interpret the past, adapt in the present and prepare for the future.

Dave George, Chief Technologist and President of Pryme Radio, holds 29 patents and is the inventor of multiple award-winning products. An RF engineer for over 40 years, George is a key influencer in the public sector’s transition from radio to broadband.  He is considered an industry thought leader whose keen insight is renowned in the communications technology field. Aside from running a successful communications accessory company, George also coaches a Southern California high school robotics team.

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