Hotel internet connectivity: how bad is it?

Frequent travelers know what hotel internet connectivity can often be frustrating.  But I hit upon a principle, many years ago, that lets us understand the connection between hotel and WiFi.

Bryan pointsI called it Alexander’s Iron Law of Hotel Connectivity, and it runs like so: the more expensive the hotel, the more costly and/or lower quality the internet.  The reverse is also true: the less expensive the lodging, the cheaper and/or better wireless.

(It’s an iron law because it’s nearly always right.  So far.)

Extensive experience has borne this out throughout the United States.  Wherever I go, I know that high-end chains and pricey conference venues will offer me a lame internet experience.  For connectivity I prefer the low-rent hotels.

Now some recent research confirms my Iron Law.  The Hotel WiFi Test site (of course there’s one) gathered data on a bunch of hotels.  Their conclusion?

Want cheaper and faster WiFi? Skip the Marriott – Get Connected at Quality Inn

More fully,

In one of the cheapest hotel chains, Quality, WiFi is usually free and demonstrated the fastest WiFi speed of the evaluated hotel chains. In contrast, a much more “upscale” chain, Marriott Hotels and Resorts, offers free WiFi at a very limited number of properties. Since the typical room price is much higher at Marriot and WiFi costs extra, most people would expect lightning-fast speeds for their WiFi connection. Unfortunately, this is not the case…

There’s even a graph:

Hotel WiFi by name

Comments here offer plentiful confirmation.

I first noticed this around 2001, and it’s stayed constant ever since.  So how much longer will this go on?

If hotels are satisfied with the arrangement, and don’t see customers defecting because of it, the Iron Law (TM) should last for a while.  It seems that expensive hotels are happy to charge business travelers for their usually piddly wifi, and aren’t interested in problems that occur.  Meanwhile low-end hotels enjoy the custom.

Will any hotels change their strategy, as more people spend more of their lives online?  Or will they assume instead that users, even American ones, will gradually migrate digital demands to phones, which they don’t need to support?

Or perhaps hotels will follow the airline business model and expand their first class style of internet support, charging a bunch for actually good connectivity.  The rest of us will get online by coach, jittering and lagging all the way.

In the meantime, when you travel in the US, apply my Iron Law and see how it works.

(Thanks to Clyde for the link.  Thanks to CogDog for the photo; I can’t find the original on Flickr, but it’s close to this one)

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11 Responses to Hotel internet connectivity: how bad is it?

  1. Steve Kaye says:

    How does the Internet available via Ethernet jacks at desks compare? It’s held true to the Law in my limited experience as well, but was curious about the experience of more-traveled sorts.

  2. elketeaches says:

    on my recent family holiday in Fiji the WiFi was poor in our beach bure (fancy cabin) & yet fantastic when near the bar. Hmmmm! My husband bought lots of lovely drinks at the bar while dealing with work email etc. I went WiFi free for a week and loved it. :-)

  3. Wired Ethernet usually follows the Law too in my experience.

    Hotel WiFi has most of the same issues as residence hall WiFi–high density of devices and lots of radio absorbing walls and floors (fireproof rooms are usually made of concrete or masonry which absorb microwaves really well.) The best solutions are the one AP per room solutions several vendors are now making, and that can be tuned to reduce interference from room-to-room. Hotel WiFi perfomance is often also hobbled by a too-small pipe out of the building .

    I have been to some high-end hotels recently that have charged extra for “premium” WiFi service which usually means speeds fast enough that you can run Netflix. I assume part of the rationale here is decreased revenue from pay-per-view movies.

  4. CogDog says:

    The cost one pays for internet is not the cost of providing the service, much like airline tickets. To Steve, I am seeing more rare that an ethernet port is provided.

    A travel pro like yourself Bryan should not be out there dependent on the internet provided; it’s why I travel with a Mifi hotspot; many times it is faster or provides connectivity when the wireless is poor. It has saved my butt too on campuses (ahem, Baylor) where access to the network required some sort of divine intervention. Always have a backup is someone’s motto.

    That’s not quite my photo Bryan, that was at your Northern Voice Talk, but I was not at that angle– https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/4588651682/

  5. Owen Kelly says:

    In my experience this works in Europe too. I have a very cheap hotel I stay in in London and the best anyone says about it is “its not dirty”. I add “it is right opposite Clapham Common, one of the nicest parks in London” and “it has blazingly fast free wifi”.

    I know a similar hotel in Dublin :)

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