Hotel WiFi has always been a hit and miss thing. Sometimes you get a fast connection. Other times it’s slower than dial-up. But as the pandemic heads towards the end, wireless internet has been hit more than it hasn’t.
I recently stayed at a boutique hotel near Cape Town, South Africa, it was a “dud”. Connection dropped several times. The staff apologized repeatedly and tried to reboot the only wireless router in the lobby. But it didn’t help me.
Why does this happen? Industry insiders say hotels have suspended much-needed upgrades to wireless connections during the pandemic as the lodging industry has faced more pressing issues.
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“Wi-Fi expectations are high,” said Janice Ting, senior product marketing manager for mobile products at Netgear. “People are used to working, gaming, streaming and more from home on multiple devices, and they expect to do the same when they travel. Today, having a robust Wi-Fi connection in a hotel is as important as having a strong coffee in the Morning.”
The lodging industry knows it needs to up its game. Innisfree Hotels, which has hotel chains in Florida and Georgia, is upgrading all of its properties with routers capable of reaching 9.6 gigabytes per second, which is triple the current speed of its routers. But it has been difficult to meet the demand for fast connections.
“As the number of connectable devices per traveler grows, hotel providers need to upgrade their systems,” said Scott Ford, the company’s chief marketing officer.
But how do you know you have a fast connection? And how do you stay connected when staying in a hotel or vacation rental?
How fast should a hotel’s internet connection be?
For post-pandemic travelers, a reliable internet connection is a utility, not a convenience. It must be fast and stable.
“At least 25 Mbps (megabits) per second, and ideally more,” says Tom Paton, founder of Broadband Savvy, a consumer broadband site. “Don’t let them get away with just saying ‘this will be fast’, as that can be quite subjective. Ask how fast it will be in megabits per second.”
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At 25Mbps, you get a consistent experience and can join a Zoom call, while downloading a file from Slack. This will allow you to watch HD TV, while updating the app on your phone or browsing Facebook.
Most hotels fall far short of this. In a pre-pandemic survey by Highspeedinternet.com, the hotel chain with the fastest free internet connection, Rodeway Inn, reached just 7.66 Mbps. For paid connections, Econo Lodge had the fastest connection at 8.48 Mbps. That’s enough to stream video, with the occasional interruption.
Sean Nguyen, frequent flyer and director of the website Advisor, says speed isn’t the only thing to consider. How many other guests will be vying for a connection?
“It makes a big difference if there are 50 people online versus five people, for example,” he says. “I ask them what speed an individual device would get based on how many people are usually in the hotel and using their internet.”
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His favorite strategy is to ask the hotel to perform a speed test before making a reservation. It only takes a few seconds on a site like Ookla or Speed Check. You will receive two numbers, one for download speeds and the other for upload speeds. Most people focus on download speeds because they’re streaming music or video, but download speeds can matter if you’re video conferencing or uploading photos.
How to connect when traveling
Experienced travelers leave nothing to chance when it comes to their internet connection. And that has never been more true than now. The most discerning travelers request a room near a hotspot in order to benefit from the highest connection speeds. The hotspots are far from the in-room desks in some older hotels, giving you only a weak signal.
Another option: Bring your own hotspot.
“If you’re traveling with friends or family and staying longer than a week, then my advice is to get a SIM card as soon as you land,” advises Simone Colavecchi, a search engine optimization consultant who travels frequently. “Also be sure to check the cost of connecting to the country you are traveling to with your current network provider.”
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For Romeo Raabe, a long-term care planner from Green Bay, Wis., bringing his access point has an unexpected benefit. He cut his office Internet connection and bought a T-Mobile hotspot last year.
“It’s much faster than my old ISP – and much more secure than public Wi-Fi,” he says. “I can even stream Netflix in the RV when I travel.”
What if the Internet does not work?
Every once in a while you’ll check into a hotel where the Wi-Fi is just terrible. Excuses won’t help you connect. You need a plan.
The first step is to call reception and ask for assistance. Sometimes they can restart the router or restore your connection. But it doesn’t always work, or it’s just a temporary solution. I can almost guarantee you’re not the first person to complain about slow WiFi, and even a quick glance at guest reviews would likely reveal the problem before you book.
Another solution: move to another room. Some rooms are too far from the hotspot. Hotels understand that some customers need a faster connection, and they’ll probably be happy to comply.
Can you check out of your hotel early and request a refund if the connection is too slow? Perhaps. If the property advertises a fast internet connection on its site — anything above 25 Mbps — you have a good chance. Run a speed test to document your internet speed. Make sure the property has a chance to fix it before you leave.
Renting an access point is also a great temporary solution. That’s what Richie Fink, a retired biosafety officer from Andover, Mass., did on a recent trip to Switzerland.
“It was reliable and fast,” he recalls. “I had a strong signal everywhere I went.”
But perhaps the most effective solution is to let your hotel know that a fast, reliable internet connection is a utility. Not having one is like having a hotel room without running water or electricity. If enough guests point out this simple truth, we’ll all be online in no time.
Here are some other connection strategies
Check reviews. Hotel reviews almost always contain information about in-room connectivity. “You can rely on user reviews to give you the most accurate account of hotel internet quality,” says Aseem Kishore, CEO of Help Desk Geek. Look for hotels that have positive reviews before deciding on your accommodation.
Be comfortable with your gear. “Practice connecting your smartphone to your laptop,” advises Edward Hasbrouck, avid traveler and privacy advocate. He says that many phone plans allow you to connect your phone to your laptop as a wireless data modem, providing fast connection speeds. But it can also drain your data, so be careful.
If all else fails, leave. That’s the advice of Crystal Stranger, an accountant who recently rented an apartment in Cape Town, South Africa. “The internet was horrible,” she recalls, “definitely not what was advertised.” After several attempts to fix the slow connection, she left the apartment and found a place with faster Wi-Fi. “Don’t be afraid to leave if it’s really bad,” she advises. Note, however, that you may not be entitled to a refund.