Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
THE TECH FILES
BY ELLIOTT MASIE
Teaching Old Phone Lines New Tricks
A new solution to hotels' high-speed Internet woes
As conference attendees and planners enter the digital age,
their appetite for bandwidth rises. One of the main questions
facing the meetings industry is, how do we get high-speed Internet
access in every nook and cranny of a hotel or convention property?
A new technology is making the wiring of a meeting site a much
easier and affordable process, and it does not require ripping up
old wires or pulling down walls.
The technology is called OverVoice, from CAIS Internet of
Washington, D.C., which recently signed a deal with Hilton Hotels
Corp. By the end of this year, Hilton expects to have the
technology in all of its hotels in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. In
hotels with 400 or fewer guest rooms, the service will be available
in half the rooms; in hotels with more than 400 rooms, OverVoice
will be installed in 200 of the rooms. It will be installed in all
meeting rooms. The service already is available at a number of
Marriotts and several independent properties.
LAYERING IT ON
How does it work? The hotel or convention center inserts a
technology layer at the point of their PBX or telephone switch.
This OverVoice layer turns every telephone extension into a
potential port on the network; in other words, the technology takes
advantage of a facility's existing telephone wiring to create a
local area network that provides high-speed Internet access to each
computer connected to it.
The phone jack in the hotel room or meeting room is replaced
with a new plate that includes a connection for the phone and one
for the network cord. It requires a standard Ethernet plug and can
be used with either a user's existing network card or a loaner PC
card that can be slipped into the guest's laptop. OverVoice
provides access to the Internet at speeds 50 to 300 times faster
than a standard dial-up connection almost the level of a high-speed
T-1 line and it extends to any place on a property where a normal
telephone extension can be found.
I experienced this invention while staying at a hotel in the San
Francisco area. At the end of the check-in process, the clerk asked
me if I wanted to be able to access the Internet quickly from my
room. When I breathlessly said yes, she handed me a packet with a
PC card and cord. The wonderful surprise was that this particular
hotel did not charge extra for the network access; it was using the
service as a selling point. Other hotels in the OverVoice network
may charge in-room fees of around $9.95 a day for the service,
depending on the property.
I installed the card and software in less than three minutes and
was connected to the Internet at speeds that rivaled the direct T-1
connection we have at our corporate headquarters. In the process, I
discovered more good news: The telephone line was unaffected by the
new connection, allowing me to make a phone call and surf the Web
or check my e-mail at the same time.
NOT JUST FOR BEDROOMS
The OverVoice technology can be used to turn every function room
that has a telephone extension into a network point for a meeting's
audiovisual requirements. Even convention centers and hotels that
were built before the Internet age can equip any exhibit space or
meeting room that can be reached by a traditional telephone line
with high-speed access.
The property needs to begin by bringing Internet access to its
hub at the switchboard. A local Internet service provider,
telephone company or even cable-modem provider can bring a single
high-speed connection into the building. This bandwidth is shared
by all points within the facility that have OverVoice
The access then can be sold to meeting planners as an item on
the audiovisual price list. My company normally pays as much as
$5,000 to bring a dedicated T-1 line to our meetings. When
OverVoice is on the premises, this access can be rented for much
less, perhaps in the range of $1,000 to $2,000 per meeting.
Planners will love the ease of the connection, and it can be set up
without weeks of interfacing and negotiating with
telecommunications providers. In fact, the facility can turn it on
and off as needed.
If a property does not have adequate Internet service, planners
might want to recommend that OverVoice complete the meeting
connection. Check out this innovation at www.overvoice.com.
Elliott Masie is president of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y. based
MASIE Center (www.masie.com) an international think
tank focused on learning and technology.
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