Hotel Wireless Internet – the feeling of being an ATM

I am a frequent business traveller and regularly use the high-speed Internet connection that is available in Hotel, either wired or wireless. The hotel I stays this week made me feel like an ATM… Interesting feeling!

So that’s what Cash Machines must feel, when the same customers goes back to get some money multiple times a day. Staying at a hotel in Holland for two nights last week, I pre-paid a 24 hours Wi-Fi Internet access for 24 hours at EUR 15… or at least that is what I was expecting to pay.

Now EUR 15 for 24-hours is a lot, and Hotels / Wi-Fi providers are making a lot of money on Business travelers. Some Hotel chains offer free Internet access and I try to stay at these hotels when possible, but this time it didn’t work out… and as you will discover, this was only the beginning of my ATM experience.

The first evening, I Log onto the registration web site to activate my 24 hours access, I start using the broadband connection to get my email (quite a few had rather large attachments), my RSS feeds and latest podcasts, go to a few web pages, download the latest edition of my newspaper in PDF (about 8Mb in size) and do a few Skype phone calls (no video involved as the Mac version does not support it yet). Enough for that evening. Next day, same story. Few emails in the morning, RSS feeds and the latest edition of my newspaper. When I come back in the afternoon, I start going through my usual tasks. And suddenly, about mid-way through my 24-hours pre-paid Internet access, the connection stops.

I open a web browser again and try to log into the Wi-Fi network, but get the message that my transfer quota was exceeded and that I needed to buy additional time to continue using the Internet connection! But I still had about 10 hours to go… I missed something. So I took the time to read the small text on the pre-paid card. There was a condition of use message with a URL for more information. Going to that page, I discover that the 24 hours pre-paid card actually has a “fair Use Policy”, eg. which ever of these options you reach first:

  • 24 hours since the first connection
  • 250 Mb of download traffic
  • 62 Mb of upload traffic

Lucky me I didn’t take the two hour pre-paid card for just under EUR 10 but decided to go with the daily connection… for the shorter period, you get under 100Mb of download traffic!

Yes I know, I am a power user. I get large emails (and usually a few of them). I subscribe to Podcasts and use Skype (and hotels must hate that as they normally charge an extra Euro for each cent the phone company charges them). But when I pay for 24-hours Wi-Fi Internet access, I don’t want to pay for the bandwidth and the time. I expect the connection to work for 24 hours. Period.

As a result, I took a moment to send my feedback to the Wi-Fi provider and to the hotel chain through their online forms. Here is the answer of the Wi-Fi hotspot provider (I haven’t heard back from the Hotel as of yet):

We are sorry for the inconvenience you may have experienced while connecting to (name of provider). We have in fact set data traffic limitations for our internet access. The reason behind it is purely technical. We have experienced that without limitations, a few customers start using peer to peer software and eat up the bandwidth not allowing other customers to connect. A number of other similar problems, like Viruses, provoking heavy data traffics in the background or automatic software and operating system updates were also identified. In order to be able to offer quality services to all customers, we decided to set the limits (around 250 MB download for a 24h access). We therefore we have included a clause in our Terms & Conditions stating that we may limit the service based on “fair usage”. The limits were set based on the average traffic we had monitored multiplied by a factor 6. The limit would for example allow around 10 hours of high quality radio streaming.

Yes, p2p can eat-up the bandwidth very quickly… but port filtering would be a better solution. And as there most certainly was NAT in place, I would not have been able to connect at full speed. And what is that about 10 hours of music streaming? Let’s do the math. 128kbps (what I qualify as high quality radio streaming) means about 16 kilo byte (as there are 8 bits in one byte as far as I remember) per second. So that’s 960 KB per minute (almost 1Mb). So 57600 KB per hour (57Mb). So that adds up to 576 Mb per 10 hours (give or take a few mega-bytes), which is more than double the allowed transfer. 56kbps is not High Quality!

Another of the comments in the email I got back from the Wi-Fi provider was:

The same principle applies to most services on offer in hotels ranging from renting a beamer in a meeting room to ordering a “Club Sandwich” from the bar; the price premium paid is linked to utilisation percentage and to the fixed and variable cost of the infrastructure required to deliver the services.

Well, when I rent a projector for half a day in a hotel, I don’t expect the projector to shut down because I displayed to many white pixels and not enough black, as this reduces the life of the lamp from that projector. The card I purchased at the front desk was a 24-hour card, not a 24 hour / 250Mb max transfer card.

I’ve decided to remove all references to the names of both the hotel and the Wi-Fi service provider in this post, but I will try to avoid any hotel that uses this provider for their wireless internet if at all possible. OK, now back to the bandwidth consumption with the little rest that I still have available 😉