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Is Your Park Ready To Meet Video Demand?

Editor's note: The following column by Jim Ganley of CheckBox Systems LLC will appear in December's Woodall's Campground Management.
Jim Ganley

Jim Ganley

For the last few years Netflix was one of the few major providers of Internet delivered video, with other providers such as Hulu, YouTube and Amazon also offering services. At times Netflix has accounted for more than 25% of the total traffic on the Internet worldwide.

Recently HBO announced that they will begin offering Internet-only subscriptions, and within days CBS announced that they will also join in and offer an Internet-only package of channels direct to consumers. With these giant content providers delivering video online direct to viewers, bypassing the cable and satellite TV providers, other content providers are following quickly and the Internet video floodgates are about to open.

These providers are offering Internet video services to answer a number of different demands from viewers, and these viewers are also your guests. These viewers want to see the programming they want to watch without having to subscribe to a bundle of cable channels that they don’t care about; they want to watch their programs on their own schedule; and they want to view their programs on different devices at home and on the go. Your guests are quickly coming to expect to be able to consume video (or content as it is now more often referred to) anywhere on any device, and your guests will want to access their video subscriptions while they travel and stay with you.

What does this mean to your guest Wi-Fi system?

Video requires a significant amount of bandwidth; a typical HD video stream uses between 2 and 4Mb of bandwidth. Lower-quality video such as standard definition or YouTube clips may require less. That means if you have 100 guests each watching video on your guest network you may need up to 400Mb of bandwidth coming into your property to support them.

While this can be a strain on your guest wifi system, it doesn’t have to be – it can be a great opportunity to provide your guests with a service they really want at a cost much lower than other amenities.

Guest surveys reveal that Wi-Fi is the most desired guest amenity; more than complimentary breakfasts, more than swimming pools, more than fitness centers or any other amenity. The cost of installing and maintaining good guest Wi-Fi is often much less than other amenities, which can lead to higher guest satisfaction, better online reviews and increased guest stays.

When considering improving your guest Wi-Fi, there are two parts to the puzzle: The bandwidth coming in from your Internet service provider (ISP) and the capacity of your guest Wi-Fi system.

The capacity of ISPs varies greatly, with some DSL providers offering from 1.5 to 25Mbs, cable companies typically offering 25 to 100Mbs (and in some areas up to 1,000 Mbs – also known as gigabit) and fiber providing up to a gigabit of bandwidth. The cost of the service will also vary greatly depending upon the market you are in.

Once the ISP delivers the bandwidth to your property, your guest Wi-Fi system has to be able to distribute it to your guest’s devices, while controlling their access and allocating bandwidth among users. Most newer systems can handle higher bandwidth volumes and accommodate video streams, but if your guest Wi-Fi system is older it may be time to look into updating it by adding higher-capacity access points, a higher-capacity system controller and more robust links between the access points and the controllers.

Prioritize investing in a robust WiFi system with many access points.

Video is sensitive to network congestion issues including packet loss, latency and jitter, causing the video to freeze or sharply degrade in picture quality. Having an under-built Wi-Fi system will result in poor performance and guest frustration. Wi-Fi capacity degrades rapidly over distance and through walls and floors. The way to address this is to employ more access points, and to connect as many of them as possible with Ethernet or fiber.

What can you do if your ISP cannot deliver the bandwidth needed for the video for your guests, or your guest Wi-Fi System cannot handle the demand?

In some areas, particularly those served by older DSL or cable system, the ISPs may not be able to deliver enough bandwidth on a single connection to handle the needs of your property. If that is the case you may be able to use multiple connections – two, three or more modems from your DSL or cable company (or both) and combine those multiple feeds into your guest Wi-Fi system to provide enough bandwidth.

If it is just not possible to get enough bandwidth to satisfy guests’ needs, your guest Wi-Fi system still needs to have the ability to reject or limit guests’ attempts to stream video and other bandwidth-intensive applications — while letting other activities such as email and web browsing through. If your system fails to do this everything comes to a standstill for all of your guests. Managing requests from users’ devices and controlling user activity presents as much or more of a workload on a system with limited bandwidth than a system that has lots of bandwidth for guests.

If you are unsure of your guest Wi-Fi system’s capabilities or if you know you need to increase capacity, it is time to talk to your Wi-Fi vendor, as your guests will be accessing (or trying to access) a lot more video — and bandwidth — in the coming months.

Over the top video service like HBO, Netflix and others are just the latest demand on your Wi-Fi system. Solid Wi-Fi will be appreciated not just for video, but for guests needing to work and stay in touch while traveling. Providing good connectivity is a great way to increase guest satisfaction (and business).

Jim Ganley is the managing partner at CheckBox Systems LLC, a company providing guest Wi-Fi systems to thousands of parks and resorts in the U.S. and Canada. He can be reached at JGanley@CheckBoxSystems.net or 866.345.9434.

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