Two-way comms for hotels: matching devices to user requirements
Written by: Simon Creasey | Published:
Stoke Park front desk

Satisfying hotel guests’ requirements is impossible without perfect co-ordination between staff. This can’t happen without good wireless comms. Simon Creasey looks at the options for hoteliers

For hotel operators two-way radios and pagers are a godsend. Hoteliers typically employ vast teams dotted around labyrinthine buildings, so having the ability to communicate with them instantly is vital – especially in hotels that also have extensive surrounding grounds like gardens and golf clubs to maintain. From the reception desk through to cleaning and security teams, equipping individuals with these devices allows large operations to run seamlessly. But it’s an area that’s not without its challenges.

The scope for using two-way radios and pagers within hotels is huge, but regardless of how they are used for individual tasks the aim remains the same – enhancing operational efficiency and customer satisfaction, according to Ian Lockyer, marketing manager at Icom UK. “For example, with a two-way radio the central reception desk can contact any member of the team wherever they are in a hotel,” he says. “If there is a guest issue or if someone needs assistance it is the best way to get the issue resolved straight away rather than taking it back to the front desk.” He adds that in larger hotels two-way radios also provide vital lines of communication between management and staff. “Most of the time a manager will be away from the front desk checking on the status of the hotel and its guests. As a result, it is important to have a portable two-way radio solution that can be carried around,” explains Lockyer.

Pagers have an equally versatile range of uses within hotels, according to Tony McKenzie, managing director at Long Range Systems UK. “You have staff pagers that are used for things like the kitchen telling waiting staff that food is ready and then you have pagers that you give to customers so that they are able to go away, wait for something, and then they receive a message to say that it is ready,” says McKenzie.

Because of the differing demands imposed on users by the wide range of tasks that are undertaken in hotels, it is not unusual to find a variety of different devices being used in a single location, says Rob Green, marketing manager at Hytera UK. “People tend to pigeonhole hospitality into needing one type of device: a small, discreet two-way radio for the front desk,” says Green. “This is important for image, but they often need a mixed fleet across departments, so rugged devices for the facilities team climbing in ducts and working outdoors, X1P covert with Bluetooth accessories for the security team, and PD415 with RFID tagging for the cleaning team.”

It is a view shared by Emma Scott, who heads up creative design and marketing at Brentwood Communications. She says that it is very much a case of horses for courses, with devices specified to meet individual user requirements. “The Motorola CLP446 would be ideal for the front desk if the area they need to cover is relatively small, as this model is licence-free,” explains Scott. “An alternative would be the Motorola SL4000, a digital licensed model. Both are small, sleek radios ideal for use in the hospitality environment, whereas the Motorola DP1400 digital licensed radios may be better suited for maintenance/security, as these are more rugged.”

Making sure the device is fit for purpose is particularly relevant when it comes to one of the biggest headaches hoteliers face. “Range is a massive challenge, whether it is for staff or customer paging or for two-way radios,” explains McKenzie. “We supply nearly every two-way radio brand on the market and people often ask ‘why doesn’t one of these radios with a six- or seven-mile range in open air perform in a hotel?’ They don’t work because some of the hotels have walls that are 18-inches thick so it’s a bit like being in a dungeon.” That’s why Lockyer advises hotel owners to commission site surveys that reveal if there are any drop outs or dead zones. Even sites that struggle with range issues need not despair because there are ways you can get around the problem. One option is buying a repeater and antenna system to be placed at strategic locations throughout the hotel, which will boost the signal so that it can cover the entire building. Going down this route could set you back a couple of thousand pounds for an analogue setup or circa £450 for a pager, says McKenzie. Another range issue specifically associated with pagers is that many of them are just receivers, not transmitters.

However, McKenzie’s company has just devised a solution to this in one of its longstanding products. “What we recently did with our customer guest pager – the CS7 – was to make it a transceiver,” he says. “It fixes the problem that exists in most guest pagers and that problem is that if you page somebody and they are out of range you don’t know they did not receive the message and they don’t know you sent it until they are back in range. So what happens with our new pager is as soon as it receives a message it replies acknowledging receipt.”

As for radios and the issue of range, manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ways to address this age-old problem. Sean Fitzgerald, solutions marketing manager – radio products and accessories at Motorola Solutions, says the company’s new MOTOTRBO radios have improved receiver sensitivity and built-in error correction to help ensure messages can be received across the required coverage area. “For users who don’t carry radios, or who travel outside the radio system coverage area, our WAVE Work Group Communications Solutions can even expand push-to-talk [PTT] capabilities to broadband devices such as smartphones and tablets,” explains Fitzgerald. “In the field this means that event teams visiting the venue can have temporary connection to the on-site convention staff. Contractors who bring their own devices can also have PTT functionality. The result is guests get great service from staff who have instant access to information, on the spot.”

A further option hotel groups could explore is UHF licensed radios with up to five watt transmit power because UHF signals are capable of penetrating the sort of steel and concrete structures typically associated with hotel construction. Lockyer says that for a medium-sized hotel with several storeys a five watt licensed radio should give full coverage. Licensed radios also offer users multiple channels so they can be allocated to management, housekeeping, maintenance and security teams.

For hotels with Wi-Fi IP radio systems are also a good option, according to Lockyer. “With an IP radio system you can quickly establish a high-quality radio network by just plugging in a control server to existing wireless networks,” he explains. “This allows you to make group and individual calls through the network and control the entire system through a PC using a PC dispatcher. The dispatcher has a map feature that makes it easy to see where all your employees are in the building. If connected over an internet VPN the system can communicate between different hotels, even in different cities.” This type of system is usually more relevant for larger hotel groups that have vast premises and operate across multiple sites.

For smaller hotels that have just a few user groups radio communication can be achieved by using a simple system such as a licence-free ProTalk dPMR 446, says Stephen Edwards, technical support manager at JVCKENWOOD UK. “Digital systems are favoured over analogue because of their improved reception at the extremes of coverage,” explains Edwards. He adds that the main things hoteliers are looking for from communication devices are the availability and reliability of equipment, “indoor and outdoor site coverage, ease of use by non-professionals, capacity – for groups and number of users – and the ability to configure the system and equipment to perform different functions for different user groups are all considerations”.

Whereas aesthetics may once have been a key requirement, radios have become more compact and discreet in recent years so this is less of an issue. They’re more focused on factors such as long battery life and durability as they need devices that can withstand the rigours of commercial use in a variety of operating environments, says Edwards, who adds that “where staff may be vulnerable to personal attack or incident/accident equipment featuring integrated lone worker, man-down, staff-safe and location functions and capabilities is essential”. The requirement for these types of functions is something that should be discussed with employees from the outset, advises Edwards. “It is essential that staff are consulted as part of the process in drafting the specification and functional requirements of the system, and that the right vendor, whether a radio dealer or system integrator, is selected to not only deliver a system that meets with the requirements but can also provide staff training and ongoing equipment and software support,” he adds.

In addition to consulting workers before acquiring a new radio or pager system, McKenzie says that potential purchasers should speak to dealers to get expert advice on the right system for their needs and to make sure that they’re not getting ripped off. “There is a lot of cheap junk out there and that’s a problem for a lot of hotel operators because they don’t understand what is junk and what isn’t, so they just look at the price and go ‘wow, it’s only £12’. But if you have got a pager that’s being sold for £12 and all the rest are £100 or so you have to ask yourself ‘why it is so cheap?’” says McKenzie. He adds that users should expect to pay around £50 for a decent customer pager and staff pagers that display messages will cost around £100.

Essentially, both with two-way radios and pagers, you get what you pay for, so if you buy cheap there is a danger you might have to shell out on replacing the device two or three times before you eventually purchase a fit for purpose model from a reputable dealer. The overriding advice from dealers is therefore to seek expert advice from the outset to ensure you’re getting the best deal and the right kit for your needs.

Case study: Stoke Park

Located in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside Stoke Park is a five-star hotel set within a 350-acre estate. The hotel offers guests a wide range of facilities, including a private members’ club, spa, tennis courts, restaurants and a golf course. With members of staff constantly moving around the hotel buildings and the vast grounds it is vital that they are contactable wherever they are. In 2011 the hotel opted for a NEXEDGE system from Kenwood for its internal comms. The hotel uses NX-220E (display and full keypad) and NX-220E2 (display no keypad) hand portable radios operating in a trunked network. “Integrating user groups into a single trunking system allows for greater efficiency of the radio channels and interoperability between all the different private user groups when needed,” explains Stephen Edwards, technical support manager at JVCKENWOOD UK. “This also logs all activity, which can be important on health and safety grounds.”

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