October 24, 2011
Keeping The Road To Progress Green And Sustainable
By Michael D. Shaw
Long before Joni Mitchell ever complained about someone paving paradise and putting up a pink hotel with its swinging hot spot, people have debated the merits of, and the proper pathway to progress. In the early 1800s, the Luddites were bands of English workers, who rioted against the textile machinery that was eliminating their jobs. One wonders if the Luddites should have tried a green argument against the pollution inherent in the new and subsequent machines.
In the 15th century, Gutenberg's printing press was not met with universal acclaim. Some of the very small number of people who were literate in that era believed that this form of mass communication would break their monopoly, opening an information superhighway of sorts to the unwashed masses. Compared to low tech hand-copying, the printing press would prove to be far from sustainable.
Lest you look back with feelings of chronological superiority, the first personal computers were introduced to nearly unanimous derision by mainframe and minicomputer snobs. And, yes, some within this group correctly noted that rapid progress in microcomputer technology would continue to render millions of devices obsolete rapidly, imposing a significant environmental impact. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations would be instituted.
For a long time, hotels—because they serve demanding business travelers—have been at the forefront of adopting new technology, while striving not to lose whatever charm might exist in a particular property. Improvements in plumbing came first, followed by enhanced telecommunications. Hotel phone systems would become quite sophisticated. Ironically, these days, in-room telephones usually lie idle, given the proliferation of cell phones.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in hotel-based telecommunications involves the deployment of Internet connectivity. During the 1990s, dial-up—if you could find it—was as good as it got for in-room connectivity. Baud rates were never great, and could be appallingly slow. On occasion, the slow speed was directly related to the internal phone cabling, which might have been installed decades earlier.
Many historic properties were forced to re-cable, or lose their valuable business travelers. With the popular introduction of Wi-Fi in 1999, an alternative to the costly and environmentally-damaging running of miles of cable presented itself. Unfortunately, early hotel Wi-Fi installations were often as unreliable as their dial-up predecessors. Thankfully, this would improve with time.
To gain further insight on Wi-Fi deployment, I recently spoke with Darryl Wehmeyer, CEO of Copia Communications. Copia specializes in bringing Wi-Fi to Caribbean hotels, and was founded based on Wehmeyer's own frustration in attempting to get online in a Jamaican hotel in the 1990s.
I asked Darryl how Caribbean installations differ from those in the United States. He explained that in the US and many other places, drywall is the predominant building material used in hallways and between rooms. "Wi-Fi goes right through drywall, so one access point might handle ten rooms."
"In the Caribbean, it's different. All the walls are reinforced concrete. So, it will take a little bit more equipment, and the installer is going to have to think outside the box to figure out how to beam it into the rooms, and still create an aesthetically pleasing installation."
Darryl notes that for a new installation, it is also important to monitor the signal to all rooms carefully, with a real meter, rather than for the technician to simply check how many bars he sees on his laptop. "We usually test every room on the bed and at the desk. These are the primary places that people want to use Wi-Fi. Adjustments are made to ensure that the Wi-Fi is optimized."
Historical facilities where Copia has added Wi-Fi include The Liguanea Club in Kingston, Jamaica. Movie buffs may remember this property as the setting of the "Three Blind Mice" hit on a British secret agent, which opened Dr. No (1962).
Wi-Fi is a wonderful example of an economically viable, high tech green technology—unlike some others currently in the news. This is a path to progress we can all agree on.