Until recently, travelers attending conferences or trade shows had simple Internet needs. They would check e-mail messages and maybe look up information on the Web or connect to the home office.
Now, meetings are likely to include streaming video and online interaction. And back in their rooms, travelers are downloading movies and logging onto peer-to-peer networks.
Event organizers and hotels and conference centers are struggling to keep up and prevent Internet gridlock.
“We’ve known for a long time that bandwidth was going to be an issue in hotels,” said Don O’Neal, a hotel technology consultant.
Erika Powell, a meeting planner for Global Knowledge, a company that provides software training to corporate clients, said she was recently forced to move an event because the hotel’s Internet connection could not keep up with her group’s demands.
“On Monday, we started getting reports that the Internet was very slow and they weren’t able to access the labs,” she said. “We communicated with the facility to find out what the problem was, but they were at a loss.”
Powell said she had to pull up stakes and relocate her students to another nearby hotel in the middle of the week so their training could be completed without slowdowns.
As recently as a few years ago, a type of connection called a T1 line was the norm for most hotels. With speeds of 1.5 megabits a second, it was robust enough for e-mail and Web browsing. (By comparison, an average at-home cable modem offers three to five megabits a second.)
The advent of cheap, user-friendly — but bandwidth-heavy — streaming video technology changed the status quo drastically. Demand at hotels and convention centers has spiked, as businesses add videoconferencing to their meetings and guests download media. Adding to the logjam, hotel managers are moving toward Web-based tools for managing back-of-the-house departments, using more bandwidth, too.
Most business hotels now have added more T1s or a T3 (also referred to as a DS3), which accommodates 28 T1s of traffic. Other hotels are installing fiber optics, which also offer large bandwidth capacity. Many of these new systems are what technology specialists term burstable, meaning they have a typical six or eight megabit-a-second rate of transmission but are capable of sustaining many times that amount of traffic if necessary.
At the new Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, technology administrators merged the hotel’s various data networks into a single supernetwork. This consolidation means groups with high bandwidth requirements can tap unused guest room or administrative capacity without having to switch networks and have their service interrupted, said Page Petry, senior vice president for information resources, North American Lodging Field Services for Marriott International, Renaissance’s parent company.
For Maura Sutherland, this bandwidth access was a major selling point. As a senior manager of corporate marketing for Akamai Technologies, she recently brought 300 customers from around the world to the Renaissance. She said the hotel was able to partition off bandwidth for her group’s exclusive use, which included high-definition video streaming.
“We were using 60 megs at any given time because we had over 20 partners demonstrating their technology,” Sutherland said. “The purpose of having these meetings is really to showcase what our customers are doing online.”