Colin Charles Agenda

On free WiFi at hotels

I was reading Hotel WiFi Should Be a Right, Not a Luxury, by Sarah Lacy at TechCrunch, and I tend to agree with her – Internet connectivity should be provided as part of a hotel package. Its not a right, but its 2010, it should be common courtesy.

I write this, while I myself am staying at an Express by Holiday Inn, in London, where the charge for 512/128kbps wired Internet is GBP7.50 for 24 hours of usage. To me, that is daylight robbery – it is about 1/10th the cost of the room! It is bitterly cold here, but if I was willing to walk about three hundred metres, there’s a bar nearby, with free WiFi access. So, I’m paying a comfort fee.

From a hoteliers point of view, I’m not using their telephone, because I have a mobile phone. I’m probably not buying their pay TV movies, because I can watch stuff on my 15″ MacBook Pro, or since I’m in the UK, and am using their Internet, I could also go to and catch something (it buffers a bit at 512kbps down, but that’s another story). If I didn’t want to use my expensive mobile phone (that’s roaming), I could always fire up a VoIP service, or use Skype, and make cheap phone calls via my PC. So from a hoteliers perspective, even giving me a 512/128 link, basically means they can’t slap me with charges for the usage of the phone, and they probably can’t even sell me pay TV.

I’ve stayed at many hotels over the years, and there is one thing I notice: the cheaper the hotel, the chance of getting free Internet access (at least in the lobby) is definitely higher. The more expensive it goes (think InterContinental’s, Westin’s, and the like), there’s usually a charge of about USD$10/day for Internet usage. Usually, if you’ve stayed at a chain long enough, priority members end up getting Internet access for free. Also, if you book into an “Executive” room (i.e. you’re on an expense account and the travel agency books this for you), there tends to be free Internet (alongside, some free fruit).

Sarah is lucky, living in America, since if most of her travel is within the States, you tend to be able to have mobile phone access, so 3G Internet shouldn’t be too far away. Or the Sprint MiFi’s. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I stayed in Penang recently – the hotel was going to slap me a RM58/day fee for Internet usage (that’s 1/4th the cost of the room by the way), but I carried my 3G dongle, and DiGi gave me 1500kbps transfers, for free :-) (OK, I pay a monthly fee for it, but I use it everywhere I please, in Malaysia, where they have 3G coverage – otherwise I drop down to EDGE).

The same applies in Singapore. Charging folk up to SGD$20 per day of Internet usage, when Wireless@SG is available at most cafes for free, seems ridiculous. This is again, a case of paying a comfort fee. In Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, nowadays you can buy yourself 3G Internet prepaid SIM cards, that charge way less than what the hotel is going to slap you with, so if you have a dongle, go for it (they usually also sell SIM-unlocked dongles).

Why not do what the Royal Orchid in Bangalore does? They offer a basic connection for free, and offer a paid rate if you want a faster speed.

Spot on. Give me access for basic web surfing and email. If I really need to make VoIP calls (I’ve found 7kbps is more than enough for VoIP calls…) with better clarity, I can pony up and pay a fee. Ditto if I want to watch streaming video.

Let 2010 be the year where either data roaming can be capped (in Asia, I have data services capped at RM36/day while roaming), or there is widespread data usage from prepaid SIMs. The telcos can beat the hotels into submission! Or, let 2010 be the year, where we get free Internet piped in our rooms. Ubiquitous connectivity.