We pretty much expect great Wi-Fi wherever we go these days. Sitting on an airplane at 30,000 feet? Better be able to watch online content! At a café working for a few hours? “What’s your Wi-Fi password?” The backbone for most smart-city initiatives is a free Wi-Fi network even while residents are waiting for a bus.
Free Wi-Fi is the bare minimum, with the new expectation being that the Wi-Fi is high quality. I recently stayed at a lovely vacation rental where the Wi-Fi speed was less than adequate. In fact, it was so inadequate that my guests and I needed to go off the Wi-Fi network and onto the LTE/4G network to use the DoorDash app to order takeout. Going back and checking the reviews of the unit online, guess what was the number-one thing that led to less-than-stellar reviews? You guessed right: poor Wi-Fi. No one seemed to notice there were four pillows on the bed because they were too busy stewing over their phone’s poor connection.
It’s All about the Hardware
While hotels are using enterprise-grade hardware (with names like Cisco and Ubiquiti), most vacation rentals are still running off of a free-with-your-plan router from cable companies or internet service providers (ISPs). It should come as no surprise that these modems are the cheapest money can buy and that their performance is greatly inferior to what your guests now expect when they are staying in a vacation rental property.
That’s not to say that you need to go out and get an enterprise- or hotel-grade Wi-Fi modem, but you’d be amazed by the improvement in Wi-Fi performance you’ll get from a roughly $100 Wi-Fi modem. You can even get your ISP to recommend something pretty amazing and include it in the monthly cost because they likely also supply hardware for businesses (technically, your rental is a business and not a residence). If you are budget conscious, you could even consider upgrading your speed and hardware plan and ditching a premium cable package. You’re not likely to get a bad review for not having premium cable, but you will if you don’t have premium Wi-Fi.
If you decide to replace the free-with-your-plan modem from your cable provider and you switch companies, they will likely want their $20 modem back. Technically, you are leasing it from them, and if you recycle it, they will charge you much more than its actual $20 value. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to use their integrated router/switch access point bundled with the device. You can upgrade to an enterprise-level access point—but more on that later.
Welcome! Your Wi-Fi Password Is #07&OlT5@
Ever spent five minutes trying to connect to Wi-Fi because the network name and password are still the default from the provider? Is that a zero or an “O”? Changing the password isn’t just an opportunity to make your guest’s life easier but an opportunity for you to make the password some version of your company’s name.
The ability to create guest networks is built into most routers. With a little bit of technical savvy, you can allow guests Wi-Fi access with a user-friendly password (but you should always have a password). You can even do phrase-based passwords like “great-guest-vacay,” increasing your security. Guest networks don’t let users see what else is attached to the network and access other devices, which is important in a world of increasingly connected devices.
If you aren’t technically savvy enough to change the network name or password, then get your local installer to change it for you. Literally don’t let them leave until they change that terrible default password to something that is guest friendly.
We Don’t Have the Bandwidth for That Today. . .
Have you ever been on a network that slows down later in the day? Or perhaps a full coffee shop where the free Wi-Fi is basically useless? What most people don’t realize is that most modems can support no more than twenty devices being connected to them at any one time on a single service set identifier (SSID).
Although that doesn’t sound like it should be a problem for your vacation rental, think hard about what might be connected to your Wi-Fi and what your guest might connect. In a three-bedroom rental, each guest is likely to bring two connected devices each (a phone and either a laptop or tablet), which gets you to six connected guest devices. If you have internet of things (IoT) devices like Alexa, Roku TV, Wi-Fi thermostats, guest tablets, a noise sensor, Wi-Fi smart lock, Sonos speakers, and a host of other smart devices, you might be getting close to twenty. Business-level access points, on the other hand, can handle over sixty simultaneous connections.
The real value of IoT devices is that they can help you know what is going on at your property at any time (especially if you also use a smart lock), with many of them also functioning as guest amenities (like a Sonos speaker). To not only bring the guest experience you offer to the next level, but to also improve your management of the property, you’ll likely want to start thinking about your Wi-Fi not just as an amazing guest amenity but as the thing that also lets you know what is going on in the unit, with smart door analytics and noise monitoring.
However, remember too that not all devices will require the same amount of bandwidth from your network. A smart lock will require almost nothing, whereas a Sonos speaker will take much more. Also, devices on other smart home frequencies won’t count toward the twenty- or sixty-device maximum. At Operto, we recommend either adding smart devices on a frequency other than Wi-Fi or upgrading to an access point that can handle sixty devices.
IoT and Frequencies
IoT is currently a hot topic. Its proliferation with devices like Roku, Chromecast, Alexa, and Google Home mean that the big players in the world of technology are only going to be growing. Increasingly, guests expect that they can get these amenities they have at home in your home away from home.
One of the first challenges you are going to likely face is that many of these new devices will only connect to the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi range. You may know that Wi-Fi right now can be either 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz, but most people don’t know why there are two versions. The 5 GHz band was added because it can handle more bandwidth. That means it’s great for your guests’ devices and anything else that needs a lot of bandwidth (think Netflix viewing), but it has shorter range.
The growth of home automation has come with even more frequencies than just Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There are a range of great low-cost sensors and monitors on a range of frequencies that can control smart locks, thermostats, leak sensors, and so on. To make use of these, though, you will need a hub (or bridge) to manage all the frequencies. Samsung is the first to create a device that can manage all these frequencies while also acting as your Wi-Fi router. Samsung has two versions: one called the SmartThings Connect Home (lower bandwidth capabilities) and the SmartThings Connect Home Pro (higher bandwidth capabilities that might be more appropriate for your property). They are also user-friendly for changing the Wi-Fi password through the SmartThings app.
Although it may seem like a challenge to address your unit’s Wi-Fi, it’s becoming something you can’t ignore if you want to maintain outstanding guest reviews. High-quality Wi-Fi has quickly become an expectation of your guests.
It’s not just millennials who want to be connected wherever they go. Even my ninety-year-old Mennonite grandmother wants to Skype the grandkids whenever possible. She’s learned to use video conferencing to see the kids but has skipped past learning to use a smartphone.
I can’t imagine her feelings would change just because she goes on vacation. Even a nice grandmother like her isn’t going to give you a good review if her call with the grandkids is cut short because of your bad Wi-Fi connection.