What is WiFi 6 and Does Your Hotel Really Need to Upgrade?

By Gary Patrick, CEO of Hotel Internet Services 

With the online demands of hotel guests and their devices ever-increasing, hoteliers have constantly remained under pressure to maintain a watchful eye over their WiFi network capabilities so as not to risk any potential decrease in satisfaction or their property’s reputation. WiFi speed and quality has in fact become so crucial to the guest experience and a hotel’s ability to attract high booking rates that many hoteliers understandably jump at the next opportunity to upgrade their networks to the highest standard.

WiFi 6 is the latest standard in wireless network technology that promises to boost connectivity speeds and performance reliability even further.  Yet depending on a hotelier’s own knowledge and experience, it can also raise a number of worthwhile questions.

From understanding precisely what it is to determining if it is in the best interests for a hotel to make the upgrade, included in this latest HIS blog are the essential details that today’s hoteliers need to know over how WiFi 6 stands to impact their operations and guest expectations.

WiFi 6: A Crash Course for Hoteliers

Also known as 802.11ax, WiFi 6 was released in 2019 as a successor to 802.11ac (WiFi 5) and as a result of the skyrocketing increase in the number of devices connected to a single network in buildings around the world. When compared to WiFi 5’s capacity, WiFi 6 offers the ability to accommodate more than four times the number of devices. Its speeds can also outperform WiFi 5’s maximum of 6.9 Gbps by as much as 9.6 Gbps.

With the now widespread prevalence of smart technology-based amenities and systems in hotels, each requiring their own fair share of network resources, these enhanced capabilities are why so many properties are seriously considering making the switch to networks featuring WiFi 6 enabled-technology.

How to Determine if WiFi 6 is Worth the Investment

Despite its growing popularity, one common question on the minds of hoteliers can often be whether such enhanced speeds and network abilities are really that noticeable from either a guest’s perspective or from an operational standpoint. The first factor to consider is that for many guests, WiFi 6’s performance enhancements really do not provide much of a difference over those of WiFi 5. For those seeking to simply connect personal devices within guestrooms at an average-sized hotel, WiFi 5’s abilities should still prove sufficient in meeting guest expectations for fast speeds and reliable connections.
Where the new standard’s features stand to provide the most benefit is for high-capacity environments such as a hotel’s convention spaces, where thousands of devices may simultaneously be attempting to maintain an online connection using the same router and access points. Thanks to its faster speeds and ability to accommodate a multitude of devices, WiFi 6 is credited with finally eliminating the connectivity challenges that have plagued conferences and other events for years- from snail pace browser and downloading speeds to continuously dropped connections or no simply connectivity at all.
WiFi 6 is therefore ideal for properties featuring large areas with highly congested traffic. This can not only include hotels that host conferences, but also those that cater to weddings, business meetings and birthday celebrations to name a few examples. Properties currently experiencing performance issues for their events should seriously consider investing in an upgrade as soon as possible.

For back-of-house operations, WiFi 6 can also prove invaluable for dramatically increasing the download and upload speeds of a wide range of applications and services that are required to share the same local-based network. Ultimately, the decision on whether to make the upgrade should rest on how many devices a hotelier expects will be connected to their network. Properties should always work with a trusted network provider to determine if their specific circumstances require an upgrade or if their existing WiFi 5-based service still proves to be sufficient.

Ensuring a Successful WiFi 6 Rollout

As with any internet-based technology, the benefits of WiFi 6 can never be realized if the underlying network design and installation plan does not meet the standard’s requirements. If inadequately designed, a hotel’s internet line will simply act as a bottleneck that erases any performance enhancements WiFi 6 is intended to provide. To sidestep needless complications and expense, a full site survey of a property’s network is always recommended as the first step. By selecting an experienced and reliable provider to perform the survey, properties can determine if existing access points are able to provide the correct WiFi 6-enabled coverage for their various onsite areas. Network providers can also offer guidance and assistance to ensure that back-of-house systems and devices are WiFi 6 compatible. Foregoing this step may otherwise result in such systems and devices receiving WiFi 5 performance quality as if WiFi 6 was never installed.

The Inevitability of Wi-Fi 6 Connectivity

Regardless of its impact on a hotel’s various service areas and departments, what remains clear is that eventually WiFi 6 will become the universal standard not just for hotels, but for other businesses and homes across the world. Leading up to this and in addition to its benefits over WiFi 5 is the ongoing microchip shortage, with network hardware providers prioritizing the availability of resources almost exclusively towards creating WiFi 6 compatible components. If this wasn’t enough to compel hoteliers into making an upgrade, WiFi 6 is also widely known as the highest standard by today’s consumers, with guests that value high performance connectivity potentially basing their booking decisions on its availability. This is despite the fact that many guests may not know the exact difference between the older and newer standard, and even though they may not be able to see any observable improvement in performance. Simply promoting WiFi 6 as an available service can enhance a property’s suitability in the minds of guests when they compare their booking options and note that some hotels are WiFi 6 enabled while others are not. This understandably can result in hoteliers adopting the standard simply to stay competitive with other nearby properties.
However, what should be apparent now is that the need for WiFi 6 and the timing of its adoption will continue to vary by property for at least the relatively near future. Ultimately, hoteliers should always seek out advice from reputable industry network professionals on what their connectivity needs are and whether any enhancements are necessary or even worthwhile. Doing so will not only ensure that they can continue to meet guest expectations while maintaining a seamless flow of operations, it can also significantly mean the avoiding of time-consuming headaches and costly expenses which at this point in time, may not even be necessary in meeting a hotel’s current online demands.