May 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   CHAINS INSTALL WI-FI IN PUBLIC AREAS BUT BYPASS MEETING SPACE

Meeting Rooms Remain Hard-Wired

Lounge act: Logging on at the Hilton New York
Lounge act: Logging on at the Hilton New York Even as hotel chains tout new wireless Internet access in public areas, they are slow to bring it to meeting rooms.

The exception is Dallas-based Wyndham International, which has installed Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) access throughout some 130 hotels. In addition, Wyndham has deployed a tech-support/salesperson at nine properties.

David Riley, vice president of catering and conference services for Wyndham, said wired and wireless connections cost the same. Packages start at $120 a day in the meeting space and get cheaper as more connections are needed.

Some chains that offer wireless access points called hot spots in public spaces are providing them in meeting rooms on demand. These include Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels Corp. and Irving, Texas-based Omni Hotels, which are now adding Wi-Fi at select properties. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, based in White Plains, N.Y., is rolling out wireless access in 150 Sheraton, Westin and W hotels. Going wireless in meeting rooms that already are hard-wired is not a priority for Omni, said telecommunications manager Cary Schoppelrei. A Hilton spokesperson noted that requests for Wi-Fi have been made for prefunction and other public spaces and not for meeting rooms. Marriott International, in Bethesda, Md., already has wireless access in 200 hotels and plans to install it at 200 more this spring. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Toronto has finished installing wireless hot spots in all 41 of its properties.

Planners should beware, however, that wireless connections are not very secure, said Bob Walters, a meetings technology expert in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas.

“On wireless networks, the routers should be set up with the appropriate firewalls. However, if you set up a wireless router strong enough to work in a conference hall, you have created a hot spot; anyone with a wireless device could access the network and, potentially, other devices connected to it,” said Walters.


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