A Montreal firm has turned an IT project for a local hotel chain into a wireless access service that’s being deployed by hospitality firms across the country.

I-Hotel International on Tuesday said it had completed its 72nd installation

of its Wireless Internet Management System, representing more than 7,500 guest rooms at hotels like Quality Inn and Holiday Inn. I-Hotel couples its software with access points from Colubris Networks, with cabling running to a Dell server.

Although several hotel chains, including Travelodge, have been offering Wi-Fi access to the Internet through DataValet and Bell Canada, I-Hotel is trying to distinguish itself as the first to offer a product created specifically for the hotel industry. The company came into being about two years ago, when its founder was helping the Gouverneur Hotels chain in Quebec create a custom-built Wi-Fi system. After eight months of testing it in Gouverneur properties, I-Hotel commercialized the software and started selling it to other firms.

“”It’s not like a large cell phone company that comes out with a product,”” said Sylvain Boudreau, I-Hotel’s vice-president of business development. “”The software was actually created and designed at a hotel. You can’t ask for a better solution than that.””

I-Hotel’s most recent customers include the Best Western Europa, a privately-owned property in Montreal. Denis Beauchamp, the hotel’s general manager, said he started looking into Wi-Fi access almost a year ago.

“”The people from 24 to 45 years old, they like to use toys,”” he said.

Beauchamp said the Best Western Europa will be offering Wi-Fi access free of charge, adding that he sees it as similar to the convenience of express checkout, which is used by 25 to 30 per cent of all guests.

“”It’s giving us some competitive advantage. But for how long? I don’t know.””

About 60 per cent of I-Hotel’s customers are waving any fee for Wi-Fi, while others charge a nominal amount, Boudreau said. Others determine fees on a client-by-client basis.

“”At first it was driven by hotels, not guests,”” he said. “”Shortly after that, the demand was driven by the guest. Now what you’re seeing is a lot of hotels that are simply reacting to their competitors.””

Hoteliers are looking for a product that will be compatible with emerging technologies like voice-over-IP, Boudreau added, as well as a system that can be fully managed on site.

“”It’s not a hotspot solution,”” he said. “”Our clients have a server on site. They can control who has access at what time, at what price. So they’ve got a lot of flexibility.””

Beauchamp said Wi-Fi is merely one stage of the Best Western Europa’s plans to offer services over the Colubris network. Next month the hotel will roll out IP phones based on Nortel Network’s Succession platform, which will offer support in 18 languages and the ability to export voice mail messages to a guest’s laptop.

Commment: info@itbusiness.ca

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