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The WhasApp conference on ‘Smarter Connectivity for Next Generation Hospitality Edge Networks, powered by IBM

The pace of change in the hospitality industry is increasing. New lifestyle and comfort features, facilities and services are being introduced every day and are now expected by guests at every hotel and resort. With more and more guests bringing multiple devices and their own content during their hotel stays, more pressure is being put on hotel networks to perform well.

Guests demand a superior stay experience and expect a wide range of reliable and efficient information, entertainment, communications and hospitality support services that can be easily accessed whenever they need them. And they expect staff to be able to respond to their needs quickly by leveraging all available network services.

In a bid to understand the repercussions of this, Hotelier India in association with IBM convened a WhatsApp conference with the GHTP Forum on ‘Smarter Connectivity for Next Generation Hospitality Edge Networks, to coincide with the first anniversary of GHTP. The panel included Harish Chandra, GM -IT (CIO), Sarovar Hotels and co-founder GHTP, Benny Josep, regional director, IT, Hilton Worldwide, Nilesh Patel from Accor, and Kiran Kumar and Vivek Rengaraj, head, GTS Marketing team in India from IBM. The conference was moderated by Khushru Siganporia from Taj.

Introducing the topic, Siganporia said that a reliable network infrastructure that can easily support all guest services and hospitality management operations is essential. This challenge needs a new approach and a different solution to managing data traffic and bandwidth, hence, he asked the panelists what they saw as a future in networking technology in hospitality?
While everyone agreed on the increasing demands of guests showing a strong preference for accessing personal content through their own devices, rather than browsing through a library of outdated pay-per-view movies, Nilesh Patel shared that according to forecasts, 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30% from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. And Harish Chandra added that providing continuous, consistent good service is the only key to success, there is a need to leverage on technology to retain customer and gain loyalty. Benny Joseph pointed out that since guests want to have all access available at all times, the hotels should not only upgrade the current network infrastructure but also be smart and futuristic in investing and taking decision.

To which Siganporia pointed out that there is a challenge at hand as some of the hotels have dated hardware with old cables and infrastructure, though the green field projects would be wired with the latest. It was concurred that it will be a lot easier to push the budget for a new build green field project rather than getting all the hardware and Capex replaced. IBM’s Vivek Rengaraj agreed that the industry needs to change with the growing demands of the guests and has to take a more holistic approach to relooking at the network.

One question that bothers most IT guys and owners is the ROI or IRR on this super highway infrastructure specially when more and more traffic running on this network is becoming free! IBM’s Kiran Kumar informed that as per one of the analyst, Optical LAN takes advantage of GPON technology delivering up to 70% CapEx savings, 80% space savings, and 90% power savings. He also pointed out that the challenge of refreshing the network in an existing property, is it because of the re-cabling or other constraints. He further added that today there are innovative ideas of laying the passive cabling infra to an existing property without impacting the structure.

In future, the kind of guest profile that hotels would be hosting would be millennials, the Gen X and their criteria to choose a hotel would be technology – which will drive the revenues. Chandra pointed out that the guests need ‘ease of use’. The conversation moved back to the cost and Kumar asked the panel’s views on whether converging all Networking & Communication needs on to one infrastructure (Voice, CCTV, IPTV, Access Control, Internet etc.,) help justify the investment. Everyone pointed out that guest network would need to be separate from the hotels admin network. IBM can build some amount of redundancy in to the GPON setup to reduce the single point of failure and the team shared a link for everyone’s benefit to a video on ease of laying cable on existing infrastructure. Adding that GPON is the evolution of FTTH technology which has been well in use from many years now.

With everyone pointing out why GPON is not the right solution, Siganporia, collated the all concerns as: cost benefits (investment is considerably higher); redundancy (knowledge pool to handle such network is scarce), support and mindset (natural resistance and fear of changing from the conventional standard); assurances (once technology is proven, then acceptance will be easier); security (data security of hotel and the guests); and a strong virtual between guest and admin networks (for easy control). He also pointed out that these are all easily resolvable if we choose the right partner to architect the solution both technically and commercially.

As an IT resource to manage GPON, IBM understands these challenges and Kumar shared that in the two hotel rollouts in India, IBM has successfully managed to upskill the current IT team on handing the GPON setup. Siganporia also shared that since the last one year Taj is completely on GPON and was satisfied with the performance.

Kumar shared a sample TCO analysis chart, which though was US-centric, but even for Indian market environment, has shown similar benefits across Capex and Opex (from the three projects IBM has executed in the past). GPON has better security since it implements similar security architecture as layer 2 Ethernet switch solutions and then adds additional security mechanisms by means of an all-fiber network and the GPON protocol layer. Kumar shared a sample TCO analysis chart, which though was US-centric, but even for Indian market environment, has shown similar benefits across Capex and Opex (from the three projects IBM has executed in the past). GPON has better security since it implements similar security architecture as layer 2 Ethernet switch solutions and then adds additional security mechanisms by means of an all-fiber network and the GPON protocol layer. He admitted that OLT and ONT are expensive items currently in the overall solution, but because of market demand, all the global players have started offering the OLT/ONT at a very competitive price point to suit the Indian market. The role of GPON here is to get all the various network in to one converged platform, he added.

On the question of data security, Kumar clarified that most of the GPON solution has embedded OAM between the OLT and ONT, which is accomplished by the ONT Management & Control Interface (OMCI) managing the end services. OMCI provides configurations, fault, performance and security management functionality. OMCI functionality of the Integrated Network Manager provides a user-friendly graphical user interface for OAM&P tasks.

Joseph suggested that IBM should take a case study of a 200-room hotel and compare the costs with standard copper-based (vertical fiber, horizontal cat6) infra verses a full GPON type solution and compare costs to all the details – even the cost required for cabling pathways to room. Irrespective of the ROI, the actual cost comparison should show marginal gain for the investment and support/maintenance costs now. Rengaraj shared that IBM has a ROI calculator in place to facilitate this.
The panel summed up the discussion to the following points:

1. A cost-effective solution on GPON
2. A clear ROI, IRR calculator to show owners and project teams the need to do GPON
3. Partners who can maintain, upgrade and keep the systems running 24X7X365
4 The need for some of the leaders to get together to find an ideal solution for the industry

What came out of the discussion was that the biggest issue is not technology but the associated costs and the industry needs to clear its apprehensions by actually doing a beta study on paper followed by an actual implementation. GPON or FTTP is the future considering constantly dropping prices of fibre components, future readiness from a perspective of serving high data volumes and ease of maintenance specially because of not too many active components in between the networks.

Siganporia concluded the discussion pointing out the need for a solution architect who can work with the industry to ensure that the solution is secure and delivers the throughputs and services without a glitch. IBM assured to revert with case studies to give the hospitality us a comfort level that this technology has a future in our industry.

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