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Free hotel Internet is gradually becoming more common, but it's still often the case that hotels want to charge $20 or more a day for the privilege of getting hooked up. One way of avoiding that expense is to use a 3G broadband connection instead, which is generally cheaper if you're going to be using a hotel more than once or twice a month, and has the advantage of also working in other locations.
With that said, a cabled in-room connection will often give you a better-quality link, and business travellers are more likely to take a "What do I care? It's all expenses anyway" view of the situation. Communications provider iBAHN, which runs the Internet access systems in 3,000 hotels around the world, tracks how those connections get used, and the figures for Australian customers — revealed last week by CEO David Garrison at the recent Hotel Operations Technology Conference conference in Melbourne - offer an interesting insight into our current online habits.
iBAHN's statistics suggest that standard web browsing is by far the most common activity, followed by streaming media, peer-to-peer file sharing, VPN connectivity, VOIP services, and email connections. According to Garrison, a year ago, peer-to-peer was more common, but has seen a marked reduction in use, perhaps reflecting the growth in catch-up TV services.
From a business user point of view, the surprising elements in this list are the relatively low ranking for VPN connections (often mandated by larger companies for connecting to corporate resources) and email-specific connections. Both might be partially explained by the use of mobile devices for many business purposes, eliminating heavy use of the PC connection. The lower ranking for email might also reflect a shift to web-based services such as Gmail.
Garrison anticipates that hotels will eventually offer a two-tiered model: free basic HTTP Wi-Fi access for visitors, with a supplementary paid service that offers guaranteed higher speeds and access to additional services, such as secure connections, video content or higher upload speeds. iBAHN's own surveys of Australian customers suggest that while 80% would like a free hotel service, 30% would pay for the ability to get higher bandwidth to watch online video, and a similar percentage would pay to be able to upload their own content more efficiently.
Where do you stand on paying for hotel connectivity? What services are most important to you when you are connecting on the road? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman figures that at least if you pay for hotel Wi-Fi, you can complain when it doesn't work. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.