When it comes to the hospitality industry, numerous technology options are available to enable the Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions. How do local area wireless networking technologies like Wi-Fi and low power wide area networks like LoRaWAN® fit into hospitality ecosystems to deliver various business outcomes – and – do they compete against one another, or do they work together harmoniously?
To find out the answer, I spoke with Beth Milano, IoT Solutions Consultant who joined MachineQ earlier this year, and one of her colleagues, Matthew FitzGerald, Executive Director Strategic Wireless Solutions at Comcast Business.
For a deeper look at the relationship status between Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN, here are some of the questions posed to Beth and Matthew and the key takeaways from their discussion.
Why are both Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN integral to the hospitality industry?
Matthew: As the sensors and hardware that drive IoT get smarter and more numerous, network providers must work with businesses to consider proper bandwidth and security. In our experience working with hoteliers, Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN complement one another with respect to overall technology and IoT deployments, working harmoniously to address various goals, purposes, and outcomes.
Beth: When conversations about connectivity and technology options take place, decision-makers generally have common goals: adopting solutions within their environment to optimize CapEx, reduce OpEx, and enhance operations to make for better employee and guest experiences. While Wi-Fi drives many guest-facing customer experiences, LoRaWAN enables back-of-house operations for business continuity and efficiency, ultimately impacting the guest experience. Like all other industries, one size never fits all in hospitality, so it's essential to identify your targeted business goals to find the right fit.
Q: What are the core differences between Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN®?
Beth: Wi-Fi emerged in the late 1990s and represents the connection of wireless routers to nearby devices that exchange data via radio waves, enabling internet connectivity and high-speed transmissions of large amounts of data. LoRaWAN, on the other hand, was purpose-built for IoT and was officially launched in 2015. As the name implies (Long Range Wide Area Network), it transmits small amounts of data over long-distance ranges – connecting battery-operated devices (“things”) to the internet and operating using low power – crucial for longer battery life. LoRaWAN can penetrate thick materials – like concrete walls, metal surfaces, and dense basement areas – making it ideal for use cases like smart buildings, which are of high value for hospitality campus networks. As a result, the technology benefits manifest “behind the scenes,” relating to the operational side, where it can be leveraged to mitigate operational risk and alleviate expenses – as in the case of sensor-enabled leak detection, humidity, energy, air quality, asset tracking, and occupancy monitoring – all of which are valid use cases in the hospitality industry.
Matthew: Most organizations already have broadband which is ideal for transmitting large amounts of data over short distances with low latency. Wi-Fi can support critical services, real-time applications, and remote monitoring. Since the availability and ubiquity of Wi-Fi are so robust, it can be leveraged to rapidly onboard general-purpose sensors in hotels. At the same time, LoRaWAN provides coverage spanning long distances in remote and heavily occupied locations. This is where we see the “friendship” between Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN since they work together as friends – LoRaWAN for massive IoT deployments and sensor-enabled tracking devices, and Wi-Fi to power onboarding and internet connectivity for data aggregation and visualization.
Q: Wi-Fi has been around for some time, while LoRaWAN has emerged in the past decade – is there a preference for one over the other in hospitality?
Beth: This largely depends on what you want to achieve and your desired business outcomes. Naturally, Wi-Fi is always needed, but IoT-based use cases typically employ a combination of wireless technologies. Again, Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN, despite having different backgrounds, features, and designs, have proven complementary when combined. It’s important to understand that as businesses seek to enhance operations and cultivate efficiencies with IoT, despite their individual needs, the bottom line is that network technologies like Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN work to solve various, long-term needs in tandem – especially with the massive scale of deployment involved for hospitality businesses.
Matthew: To get the results hoteliers need, organizations must incorporate a blend of complementary communications technologies – and preferences come down to the use cases.
What are some specific use cases that Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN can address in hospitality?
Beth: One use case of particular interest to the hospitality industry is environmental monitoring, which helps reduce operational expenses and enhances guest comfort by monitoring temperature and air quality continuously and autonomously. This solution, powered by sensor-enabled devices, mitigates risk by tracking the performance of threshold-driven events to detect anomalies like malfunctioning refrigeration or HVAC units. Operators receive actionable alerts for immediate, proactive resolution rather than reactive handling, stopping problems in their tracks. Rendering invaluable benefits for food preparation areas, sensors can also help hotels meet safety and compliance protocols by ensuring proper refrigerator and freezer temperatures are maintained for the storage of perishables. If temperature levels should deviate, alerts notify personnel to handle the issue. Or, in the event refrigerator or freezer doors are inadvertently ajar, causing potential food spoilage, devices placed on doors trigger alerts. Finally, an emerging area, spurred by the AHLA’s 5-Star Promise and increasing legislation, is the requirement for employers to provide associate alert buttons for employee safety across the US. With the wearable device, employees can push a button and send a discreet signal to security teams who will be able to locate them quickly, necessitating a rapid response solution for safety purposes.
Matthew: Wi-Fi can be used to transmit device data to the cloud (backhauling) and for leveraging user-friendly digital visualization applications to view the end data. This poises hotel executives to derive meaningful, data-backed insights for calculated decision-making regarding purchases, guest satisfaction, and operational improvements. Moreover, this data can be used to understand better where and how costs can be reduced, along with infrastructure and software decisions.
Q: What are some of the unique benefits of each technology?
Matthew: Generally speaking, the benefits of Wi-Fi are inherent in its incredible convenience, allowing users to connect devices from virtually anywhere - especially with the emergence of public wireless networks. This allows for limitless productivity and mobility. Deployment is relatively simple, requiring little more than an access point for installation, and it can capacitate an abundance of users with ease.
Beth: If you're looking to power an IoT solution at scale with minimal energy consumption, LoRaWAN is incredibly cost-effective compared with other technologies. It operates with low bandwidth, low power, and low-battery consumption. It covers incredibly long distances – over ten miles – and installs quite easily and quickly, with a quite simple architecture and leveraging ethernet or cellular communication channels for backhaul. For this reason, it's incredibly secure because it operates independently, meaning it doesn't need to access corporate networks that may be open to vulnerabilities. And its reliability isn't limited to the stability of internet-based connections – meaning it won't be affected by outages.
Q: What are the limitations of each technology?
Beth: While encryption methods exist for Wi-Fi to make it very secure, users with malicious intentions can potentially exploit them. It operates within low ranges, and while it may be practical for internet connectivity in a home, without the purchase of repeaters or additional access points, it would be a bit cost prohibitive in larger structures. The surrounding environment can affect its reliability since radio frequency transmission can be afflicted by various interferences, like inclement weather, construction, or when local power grids are undergoing maintenance.
Matthew: LoRaWAN’s low transmission rate means it cannot be used to send anything larger than small data packets (or 256 bytes) – meaning you can’t use it to send an image, for example, or any large files. While it is an unlicensed spectrum, which is beneficial for installing your own separate network, this could be a drawback for some. Unlike Wi-Fi, which is considered “globally harmonized,” LoRa operates on varying frequency bands, depending on the region. As discussed above, LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi can work together to provide powerful business outcomes, ensuring sustainable connectivity and driving limitless use cases.
For hospitality executives, adopting scalable IoT solutions can streamline operations, enhance security, and deliver world-class guest experiences – boosting profitability and gaining an edge over competitors.
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