Hotel Room Computers: Leave your laptop home!

By Diana J. Choyce
Oct 18 - 24, 1999

You've lugged that 10 pound laptop through airports, airplanes, xray machines, and taxi's, only to find that you have to charge the battery before you can even use it. You left the AC adapter...somewhere! Now you're all charged up and ready to go and find that you've forgotten your Jaz drive at home, along with all the files you need for your meetings. Sound familiar? Your dream would be the use of a full desktop computer with high speed internet access and the capacity to hook into your company network. That dream has finally begun its road to fruition! The Solar Communications Group Inc. and Tut Systems companies are about to change our lives and the way we do business on the road. And if we can extend this service to all those places where we hate to sit and wait, wasting precious time, our productivity would go off the scales. But then again, just closing the computer and having a nice conversation with another human would be a good thing too.

Both of these companies have introduced their co-dependent systems into the marketplace, and are already deploying them at many hotel chains. Solar Communications hails from New Jersey and Tut Systems is based in California. PCRoomLink from Solar provides business travelers with a variety of on-line convenience services, including access to their corporate networks. The PCRoomLink system, which is installed in qualified hotels free of charge, includes in-room PCs, with web-based e-mail, high-speed Internet access and popular software applications.The Expresso MDU system from Tut is designed to sit in the wiring closet of hotels and other multi tenant properties, such as apartments and commercial buildings, to deliver secure, high-speed Internet access to individual units within the building at speeds 20 times faster than a dial-up modem. It uses existing telephone wires of a building without disrupting voice services allowing hotels to maximize telecommunications revenue by delivering voice and data on a single telephone line.

It is hoped that the PCRoomLink system service will entice consumers to use these hotels and to also bring them back as repeat customers. Since travelers will have the choice of using the room computer or using their own laptops, they can have the best of both worlds. And the expected internet access speed of up to 1.544 megabits per second is a definite added advantage. The system will also generate other revenue besides the normal room rental rate. Hotels can have the interface customized and garner advertising space profits as well. And the consumer can use the interface to order from the local Pizza Hut, make airline reservations, rent cars, and even bring up maps of the local area. It looks to be one of those win-win propositions.

"We have contracted with several well-known industry giants to provide this in-room service," stated Mr. Rossi. "Contracts are in place with AT&T, Compaq and others. Alliances with these companies provide maximum reliability of our service and give the hotel owner a real sense of security. We are confident this technology will be embraced by both the hotels and their guests." The company plans to provide links from its web site at www.pcroomlink.com to the hotel for immediate on-line reservations at no charge. It will also deploy, maintain, service, and monitor the systems which will eliminate a large capital investment by its hotel partners. Their most well known partners to date are with Trump International Hotel & Tower based in New York City and the Holiday Inn chain.

It will cost an in-room internet system company as much as $750,000US to outfit a hotel. The cost to the traveler will run about $20.00US per night. Hotels need to be careful in picking a supplier as the contracts can last from 5 to 7 years. This long term contract is needed to provide enough time for realizing profits for both partners. Companies like Solar Communications need to convince a hotel of their commitment and stability. Otherwise the hotel could end up with a long term contract with a company who no longer supports them and leaves them with much outdated systems. Given that zero investment will be required from the hotel. it could mean big profits down the road if they choose their partners carefully. Alliances must also be chosen carefully to provide consumers with a reliable, secure, and worthwhile service.

Several companies have jumped into the in-room internet fray with more arriving every day. They offer many varieties of the service from simple internet access to full desktop components. Included in this group are LodgeNet from Sioux Falls, S.D. and Minneapolis-based Integrated Network Technologies (INTxx), which operates the Cyberoom hotel internet service. As more and more companies jump on this technology, the competition can only help the end user get the best service for his well earned money. And as far as convenience, we would all love to leave our laptops at home as often as possible. It will give us more overhead space in the airplane for all those trinkets we have to bring home for the family!