The suckage of hotel Internet

02Mar12

I’ve been on the road now for a week and a half, which has brought me into contact with some of the slowest, most expensive Internet access I’ve suffered in some time. I’m used to mobile Internet being expensive and slow, but this has been even worse.

My problems started in an airport lounge in Singapore. I’d forgotten to check before leaving home that my replacement iPhone[1] had my audiobooks on it, and it turned out that they’d been missed from my iTunes sync. I have the Audible app, so I needed to download a book segment of around 90M. This would take a few minutes on my home broadband (which isn’t stunningly fast at around 4.5Mb/s). Unfortunately it was much slowed than that, and the connection kept dropping, and when the connection dropped it wouldn’t always continue – more time and bandwidth wasted as I started over. I didn’t get to listen to my audiobook on the flight – that’s OK, I managed to get some sleep.

When I checked into my hotel I thought my troubles would be over, and indeed I was able to download a few audiobooks. I woke early the following morning (a little before 4am) and thought I’d catch up with Google Reader and Twitter. Things were painfully slow so I ran a quick Speedtest:

Wow! I guess a Skype call home would be out of the question then. This is on an Internet service billed at AUD25/day (plus applicable taxes), and at that time in the morning I can hardly believe that other hotel residents were swamping their pipe. I’d also note that matters didn’t improve over the following hours/days. I complained at checkout, and thankfully the Internet charges were dropped from my bill.

For the purpose of comparison I’d note that AUD30 had got me a PAYG SIM that included 500MB of data on an HSPA network (and 500 voice minutes and unlimited SMS)[2]. So… looks like hotels are up to the same game they play with phones, offering a price point that’s even worse than mobile providers.

Another day another hotel. This time the performance isn’t too bad:

Unfortunately there’s a catch… AUD24/day only gets 100MB. After that you can pay AUD0.10/MB (up to a total daily cap of 1000MB) or switch to a throttled service that performs like this[3]:

Wow again! That’s even worse than the first speed test I did.

For a further comparison I tested the WiFi at the meeting I was attending (no charge, no caps):

That looks to me like a decent ADSL2 service. I’m not too familiar with local broadband pricing, but I expect that costs the same for a month as my hotel broadband is costing for a day or two.

It’s not news that hotels ream their customers for extras like this. But the cost, quality and limitations are pretty shocking. AUD104 for a maximum of 1000MB of data looks like it’s explicitly designed to make movie streaming cost prohibitive (to protect an in room movie distribution monopoly?). Of course (as the SOPA/PIPA advocates continuously fail to appreciate) the Internet isn’t just a medium for media distribution. These limits preclude the downloading of larger apps, and get in the way of desktop video conferencing.

I think the hotels can and should do better than this. What’s kind of perverse here is that the high end places seem to be the worst culprits for this kind of behaviour (whilst many cheaper hotels offer free access to fast pipes). The same is probably also true for many airline lounges.

[1] The original developed an ever growing yellow blotch on the screen, so I sent it back.
[2] The Aussie mobile carriers seem to make it super easy for visitors to buy their services. There were a number of providers with shops right at arrivals in SYD. I wish it were the same elsewhere (but I guess roaming tariffs provide perverse incentives where it’s better to keep somebody as another firm’s customer rather than make them your own).
[3] I was told at check in that Internet was complimentary with my room rate, so I’m not expecting to see the AUD24/day charge, but after only a morning of emailing and reading (no serious video or app usage) I’ve already blown past my 100MB quota, and with work to do I’ve selected the faster more expensive option – it’s unclear whether that will be charged.



One Response to “The suckage of hotel Internet”

  1. 1 Correy Voo

    San Francisco and Seattle are the only two cities where I have been able to get decent consistent broadband connection at hotels or coffee shops.


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