On the Road Again?

Getting Connected in Hotels

Plugged In

If you're like me, one of the first things you do when you check in to a hotel is look to see what sort of connectivity you have in your room. The prospect of downloading presentations or spreadsheets via a dial-up connection is downright horrifying for anyone who has experienced the other side.

Clearly, major chains believe providing in-room high-speed internet access is becoming de rigueur. Marriott International has pledged to offer high-speed access at all of its Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Marriott, Renaissance, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites hotels by the end of this year. For some parts of its chain, the access is free. For the Marriott and Renaissance properties, the company charges $9.95 per day for access, plus unlimited local and long-distance calls, which can add up quickly otherwise. Elsewhere, Westin Hotels & Resorts has begun offering a similar package for $16 per day, throwing a complimentary "technology" concierge into the price in case you have trouble configuring your computer to work with the service.

If you're not sure whether your hotel has what you need in terms of connectivity, the GeekTools website may be of assistance. You may also be able to find a hotel with the services you need on your travel route by checking the hotel locator provided by STSN. STSN is the high-speed access service provider for approximately 1,900 hotels in North America, Asia-Pacific and Western Europe-with more than 265,000 guest and business-meeting rooms. Marriott is one of STSN's clients, as are the Hilton and La Quinta chains. Lately, STSN has been adding wireless services to the mix and now maintains these services for about 850 properties-another trend expected to accelerate in 2005.

If your hotel room makes you stir crazy, and your travel finds you spending lots of time in a certain region, like Boston, New York City or Orange County, California, you might consider looking into a service such as TechSpace, which offers drop-in space and connectivity space to telecommuters and business travelers. Its membership plans include VirtualSpace, priced at $150 per month per person, and then $15 per hour; or FlexSpace8, which lets you work two days per week in its facility for $350 per month per person. Both plans require a one-time setup fee of $75.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The wireless dialogue will dominate the mobile computing world over the next 12 months, according to Atwal. One of the biggest trends for road warriors to watch will be an ability to transmit data, and possibly voice, between Wi-Fi hot spots and the cellular carriers' much wider-area services. In theory, your notebook, cell phone or handheld will be able to send and receive transmissions that hop from Wi-Fi network to cellular connection transparently, depending on which provides the best signal strength, security or fees.

After all, personal preference is what mobile computing is all about. "The people who travel the most get the latest technology. Then we migrate them down," says Beckstrom of Momentum Marketing, describing his company's technology investment policy.

Because of his advance research on the road with Wi-Fi, his company now uses wireless networks extensively. But for every entrepreneur like Beckstrom, who believes the digital cameras in today's handhelds could yield a killer application, there's another who hasn't figured out how to use his yet. If you're one of the latter, it's time to join the mobile revolution and discover what you're missing.

Meeting of the Minds
Web conferencing continued to make strides this year, as companies look to host more impromptu meetings without being beholden to the transportation industry. Sales of software to facilitate cybermeetings-mainly those that allow for sharing documents while hosting a discussion-are anticipated to post annual growth of about 17 percent over the next several years, reaching $1.1 billion in annual new license revenue by 2008.

Experts believe one big factor that will inspire adoption in 2005 is broader interest in VoIP, which lets you make telephone calls over a broadband connection. "As companies move toward IP technology, web conferencing becomes an easy add-on from a user perspective," says Melanie Turek, principal research analyst with New York City-based Nemertes Research, which quantifies the business impact of technology. "People will use it more often when it becomes part of their daily work life."

Research shows that web conferencing is used most frequently for hosting a company's internal meetings among multiple locations, Turek says. Only 1 in 5 web conference calls is focused on product demonstration or sales.

Meanwhile, several ongoing developments are worth noting. First, AOL now lets you launch conference calls or web conferences from within an IM session. The idea is that an IM session might escalate into a discussion leading to a better solution. Lightbridge, a transaction processing company, and web conferencing market leader WebEx Communications are working with AOL on the new service.

The telephone call service will cost about 5 cents per person per minute, while the web conferencing feature will be priced at 33 cents per person per minute on weekdays. Microsoft-which got into the market with its acquisition of PlaceWare a year ago-has inked similar deals with AOL, MSN and Yahoo! that link their IM technologies to the next version of Live Communication Server, which won't be a factor until early next year.

Finally, FaceTime Communications intends this fall to deliver RTShield, which extends AOL's IM technology with secure real-time communications options. The software includes an option specifically for companies with fewer than 50 employees, although pricing hadn't been set at press time.

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On the Road Again?.

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