By Perry Correll, principal technologist, Xirrus
Guest privacy remains a top priority for the hospitality industry over the decades. Not only do we get locks and peepholes on our hotel doors as standard, but hotel management still offer ‘do not disturb’ tags to ensure guests are left in peace. But if we refuse to sacrifice our physical privacy when we travel, why would we compromise on our digital security?
Unfortunately, this is what many guests unknowingly do when they connect to insecure hotel Wi-Fi networks, that often leave user devices and data exposed to potential hackers. Most hotel and resort properties offer some form of authentication in order to limit access to their Wi-Fi networks.
Few locations, however, offer the encryption required to fully protect guest data from any malicious outsiders. Hotel management and IT departments are not solely to blame for this. Adding this level of security often requires a level of technical complexity that neither guests nor the resort desire. Visitors don’t want to jump through further hoops in order to get online, and hotel staff prefer to keep IT systems as simple to manage as possible.
Secure, dedicated Wi-Fi
But what if a hotel could offer a secure, dedicated Wi-Fi network for every room, without the complications of encryption? This is the kind of intelligent solution made possible by personal area networks, or PANs.
For example: A family of four arrives for their stay at a hotel, ready to start their holiday. The hotel features a conventional authentication process for its Wi-Fi network. With two parents and two children, the family brings on holiday almost 10 different wireless devices between them. To connect to the local network, each device will need to individually access a captive portal and register; this can quickly become an inconvenience, and result in some unimpressed hotel guests.
That is without even mentioning the possibility of using devices like gaming gadgets, that come without a native browser. The lack of a browser prevents you from even accessing a captive portal in the first place, making a connection out of the question. Considering the limitations and inefficiency involved, it’s hardly what any hotel guest or IT department would call an ideal situation.
Now, imagine that same family arriving at a resort with an integrated PAN service. As they enter their room for the first time, each of their devices automatically and securely connect to a dedicated Wi-Fi network intended just for them. Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t! These types of solutions have already hit the market, and the hospitality industry is the perfect venue to put them into action.
Bring your own network
To achieve this kind of seamless connection process, hotels need to adopt what is known as a bring your own network (BYON) policy. The idea is that a personal SSID and security settings travel with every guest, in and out of every hotel they stay in. When a family enters a guest room, one individual logged into the properties portal is offered the opportunity to define their own secure SSID. To accept this offer, they must enter the SSID and key they want to use; preferably one already configured in their devices’ profiles. Just 30 seconds later that SSID appears on the Wi-Fi access point (AP) installed in their room.
Since the family has already configured their devices to search for that SSID automatically, everyone can immediately join the network, even while using gaming systems with no browser capabilities. Better yet, the hotel can retain this information and instantly create the same PAN the next time the guest checks in, or even share that information with the hotel brand’s entire set of locations worldwide. When the guest checks out, the SSID is automatically removed from the AP, simple as that.
Not only does the PAN concept deliver security to the guest room, it also offers other useful services that make it easier to utilise and enjoy mobile devices whilst travelling. By definition, PANs place all linked devices in the same network, allowing them to connect directly through peer to peer communication. This can enable some useful and entertaining features, like competitive gaming between two different devices. The peer to peer service also enables another evolving capability, bring your own content (BYOC), the ability to stream content from a smaller device directly to a TV in the hotel room.
The key value points of PANs are obvious to travellers and hotel management alike. These solutions deliver a number of compelling features that make hotel Wi-Fi safer and simpler for everyone: the ability to use secure, personal Wi-Fi in any guest room, without requiring a VPN; easily configurable networks with no IT knowledge required; automatic configuration for future visits; peer to peer communication among all connected devices.
Xirrus is a Wi-Fi technology company that designs and sells wireless networking equipment.