Marriott makes reservations for WiFi

Marriott International Inc. is cutting the marionettes free.

The hotel chain is in the process of equipping more than 400 of its buildings to provide wireless Internet service based on wireless fidelity (WiFi standards) in

common areas and conference rooms. More than 200 hotels have been converted in about two-and-a-half months, according to STSN Inc. the company responsible for the integration and service.

According to Brett Molen, chief technology officer for the Salt Lake City-based firm, three of Marriott’s Toronto properties (including Marriott Bloor-Yorkville, Marriott Eaton Centre and Airport Marriott) and Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal are on the “”to do”” list.

Molen says common areas like lobbies, restaurants and pools are being wired for 802.11a and 802.11b compatibility, while business settings like conference rooms will use “”b”” only. Billing will also be a separate matter. Conference room users will be required to provide an access code, while the public space protocol differs slightly.

“”In the common area anybody can come in there off the street or if they’re staying at the hotel, they’re presented with a purchase page that uses SSL (secure socket layer) for the security and it’s a bill by the minute type of plan. You enter your credit card in and it goes from there,”” Molen says. Users pay (US)$2.95 for the first 15 minutes and (US)$0.25 for every minute thereafter.

Some say wireless networks pose an unacceptable security risk. For example, the cyber-security advisor to the White House Richard Clarke last year recommended all wireless networks be shut down because of the security risk they pose. Molen says he is aware there is a lot of concern about the risk, but adds it has taken steps to mitigate the primary threat: transferring from one mobile-unit to another.

“”(This) is something that a lot of the hot spots and wireless networks out there have missed. We nailed that down,”” Molen says, and adds “”all of out authentication pages are using SSL. You can use the VPN (virtual private network) or a client application to encrypt the traffic over the wire.””

Molen says wiring the hotels has been a simple task because it already provides high-speed access to the hotel rooms. Most hotels have a large pipe already installed (T1s in most cases, but DS3s at a few locations), so the wireless component is just an overlay, he says.

STSN director of marketing Sandra Richards says about two per cent of business travellers have wireless devices, but visitors keep asking for WiFi, especially those requesting conference rooms.

“”Most of the properties are looking at as something for the future. They’re assuming that in the short term the take-rate is not going to spectacular, but within six to 18 months it’s going to explode,”” Richards says.

Mark

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