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Published on : Tuesday, June 9, 2015
This month hoteliers flocking to Austin Texas to attend HITEC will not have to worry about inadequate cell coverage for 3G Voice or 4G Data if they are staying at the JW Marriott Austin downtown hotel. The largest JW Marriott in the Americas and the second largest in the world with 1,012 guestrooms is a game-changer for conventions in the Austin market. Prior to its opening in February 2015, property owner and manager White Lodging began noticing that as construction progressed, cell signals on the upper floors weakened. Although White Lodging had an initial agreement with a carrier to correct the problem, they found themselves having to go in a different direction since the doors were scheduled to open in just four months. White Lodging VP of IT Ken Barnes reached out to the company’s trusted partner RoamBOOST. Today, the system has exceeded expectations.
RoamBOOST is a Distributed Antenna System that uses a network of neutral host antennas strategically placed inside a hotel (in corridors, common areas, meeting spaces, etc.) to address signal strength issues. The system proactively removes obstacles that could potentially interfere with mobile calls or data transactions. The system works by taking an existing mobile signal and amplifying it throughout problem areas of a hotel. In the case of the JW Marriott Austin Downtown, RoamBOOST continuously transmits superior cell signal strength across 1.2 million square feet.
“Based on past history with sites of this magnitude, we recognized early on that we would have problems with appropriate cellular voice and data coverage at the Austin property,” Barnes said. “Results from our site survey validated that something needed to be done to boost the cell signal throughout the property, but with construction progressing quickly, we had little time to waste to find a solution. We called on RoamBOOST to help us prepare for the opening and set us up for success.”
Typically a DAS installation of this magnitude would require at least a 30-day planning period with 60-90 days to schedule the installation. The RoamBOOST team was given a window of 45 days to complete the entire project, which consisted of installing 516 antenna locations across all 35 floors and multi-level below ground parking deck.
“Although it was controlled chaos from the onset, RoamBOOST completed the installation under the deadline, and the team exceeded our expectations,” Barnes said. “Contrary to popular belief, hotels can’t install a DAS and forget it; cellular management is a science that requires continual care. Hotels need to adjust signal strengths; they need to be turned up and turned down depending on events at the property and things happening in the city. In the event that a temporary cell tower is placed in downtown Austin to support a large happening, we need to adjust accordingly. Also, if a guest or meeting planner brings a coverage issue to our attention, we will fine-tune the service to ensure that we are meeting expectations across the board.”
“From a major meeting-planner perspective, the cell environment and data speeds provided at the JW Marriott Austin are exceptional,” he said. “RoamBOOST continues to be a very solid partner; they have jumped through hoops each time we asked them to. They are extremely supportive and easy to engage. RoamBOOST excelled at this project, despite the short deadlines.”
Pam Angelucci, RoamBOOST senior vice president of operations, said the JW Marriott Austin installation is not an uncommon scenario. In the past, carriers would fund cellular projects for large resorts in high profile metropolitan areas as long as the hotels were considered anchors of the city or community. JW Austin, for example, which is located in the heart of downtown and attached to the convention center, would likely be an ideal candidate for carrier project funding. However, funding for projects is drying up, or, in some cases, despite signing 10-year exclusive agreements that preclude hotels from doing business with other carriers in exchange for project funding, services are simply not being provided.
“Even though there’s talk in the industry that the carriers will help hotels faced with cell signal deficits, it’s a difficult, long and iffy process to undertake with no guarantees that financial assistance will be provided in the end,” Angelucci said. “If your hotel is willing to wait five years for that promise — and you’re willing to risk guest complaints and possible lost business — then wait. Most hoteliers, however, won’t take the gamble.”