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Managing Editor

Cisco reseller tames hotel IP networks

Mar 13, 20067 mins
Cisco SystemsNetworking

Hotels work with Cisco reseller to consolidate TV, phone, wired and wireless access, and room control functions on a single device

Advancements in IP are not lost on the hospitality industry. Hotels and resorts offer high-speed Internet access from guest rooms over Ethernet, DSL and Wi-Fi. But increasingly, they are also embracing IP telephony, IP TV and other advancements tailored for “everyday” use.

Couple that with industry-specific protocols and mechanisms, such as Zigbee, for guest room control functions, and the wiring and cable management task can quickly get out of hand.

That’s why a couple of hotels are installing — or thinking of installing — a product from a Cisco reseller located near Buffalo, N.Y., designed to consolidate the entire electronic features of a hotel room into one cable — TV, telephone, wireless Internet access and climate control among them. Lorica Solutions of Amherst, N.Y., develops the Lorica Room Center, a single circuit board hidden in a hotel room closet that consolidates TV, phone, wired and wireless Internet access, and room control functions onto a single cable, network and manageable device.

“We are equipping hotel rooms with more and more IP devices,” says Nick Price, CTO at Mandarin Oriental hotel group and president of the Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) trade association. “It’s impractical when you scale up to five, six, or 10 Category 5 [cabling] endpoints to do home runs to a wiring closet on the floor. The last thing you want in a hotel room is a power adapter for someone with a vacuum cleaner to come along and unplug and not put back in.”

The Lorica Room Center only requires one cable to access and control all critical room systems, eliminating more multiple wiring systems for each room function. It’s also intended to create demand for more IP services and features in a hotel room for which hoteliers can charge tiered rates depending on the application and required bandwidth.

For instance, a guest who uses a Skype IP phone could request a tier of Internet service from the hotelier to let that Skype phone become the guest’s room phone. Also, if guests want to download a movie onto their laptop from a site like MovieLink, a hotelier could offer a tier of Internet service that supports bandwidth hungry applications like that.

“The vast majority [of hoteliers] think, ‘I just have to have high-speed Internet,’” says Clark Crook, president of Lorica Solutions. “That’s where the missionary work comes in. If we’re capable of defining ROI, we have some compelling stories to tell.”

Some of those returns come from eliminating separate coaxial cabling in hotel rooms to support cable TV. TV and other video services would ride on the same cabling and network as the phone, Internet access and room control services.

Other savings would come from the reduction in the number of Cisco Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) switches required to drive all of the IP devices in a room. Each Room Center board comes with a 16-port Cisco 100Mbps Ethernet switch, eight ports of which support IEEE 802.3af-compliant or Cisco proprietary PoE.

Lorica Room Center cuts the per-port pricing of a managed PoE switch port with redundancy and uninterruptible power to less than $75 per port from more than $200, Lorica officials say. This is achieved through centralized power for the board and all room devices, vs. separate uninterruptible power supplies for each PoE switch.

“It’s a cable plant simplification device,” says Mandarin Oriental’s Price. “Even though we’re getting more and more [IP] it doesn’t mean the hotels are necessarily inclined to want to spend a lot of money on cable plants. They are very cost-constrained environments.”

Price says Lorica Room Center, which he is evaluating for a Mandarin Oriental resort to open later this year in Riviera Maya, Mexico, could shave 40% to 50% off the hotel chain’s room network costs, much of which is in running separate Cat 5 or coaxial cables into a single room for each device.

“Hotels, unlike offices, don’t close at night or weekends,” Price says. “So you can’t easily cable a hotel. If you’re a hotel today that has one ‘Cat-whatever’ [cable] on a horizontal run to a guestroom, this is the way that you can suddenly break out and add a whole load more IP functionality in a room without taking carpet or floors up, or ceilings down. It’s a very appropriate product for a Marriott or a Hyatt or somebody like that with hundreds of hotels, because they’re all having to put more and more IP in a room. The typical DSL-off-of-a-phone-line doesn’t cut it anymore.”

A single Room Center board supports one to four rooms depending on the number of required ports per room, Lorica officials say, but typically it is configured to support two rooms with back-to-back closets.

Mandarin Oriental is evaluating six for the Mexican resort, and considering trials for the product at four or five other Mandarin Oriental locations, Price says.

Hilton Garden Inn at the Buffalo Airport has 42 Room Center boards installed. Each board powers the IP phones and data network devices for four rooms, Lorica officials say.

Calls to Hilton Garden’s general manager were not returned.

Price says the unit could be a big boon to resorts with villas, cottages or clusters of buildings located far from the main resort office and its technology support systems.

“One of the things we’ve asked Lorica to do is put a fiber interface on the downstream side so that we can go long distances,” Price says. “That’s a very, very cost-effective way of taking a bunch of services over a kilometer and feeding two or three or four cottages.

Before, it was really almost mission impossible to do that. It was so damn expensive.”

Another benefit is the system’s ability to be remotely managed. Once a guest checks in, the Room Center system can “fire up” all of the IP and Zigbee devices in that room so things such as the TV, phone, Wi-Fi access and room controls are set while the guest is making his way to the room.

“It very much acts as a localized interrogation point for the status of other systems in the room…which is the critical thing. So that if a guest’s phone isn’t working you don’t have to run up to a room and figure out why,” Price says.

Support for analog phones will be coming later this year when Lorica unveils the second generation of Room Center. That board will include a two- or four-port analog terminal adaptor for multiphone rooms, where an IP phone sits on the desk and analog phones can reside on a nightstand and in the bathroom.

This will eliminate the need for hotels like Mandarin Oriental to break out separate Cat 5 cable to support those bedside and bathroom analog phones, Price says.

Even though Room Center might reduce the number of Cisco PoE switches a hotel needs, there is a trade-off for Cisco: it creates demand for Cisco’s CallManager IP Telephony platform in the hospitality arena, a market, Crook says, it was not really designed for.

In addition to consolidating networks with the Room Center, Lorica also writes software extensions for CallManager to customize the platform for the hospitality industry, such as property management system integration, wake-up calls, do not disturb and other guest service features.

“Cisco is our biggest fan,” Crook says. “Cisco has not been competitive in hospitality with IP Telephony. [Room Center] allows the Cisco product line to be much more competitive. We’re creating opportunities they never would have got.”

Managing Editor

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 28 years, 23 at Network World. He covers enterprise networking infrastructure, including routers and switches. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy and at

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