How does hotel wifi work? In this article, we’ll answer all your questions about hotel wifi, including how it works, why the internet at hotels is so terrible, and why your information is not as safe as you’d assume it is.
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How does hotel wifi work?
Hotel wifi isn’t that much different than the wifi you might have at your home or at work. You have your internet, the internet service provider (ISP), the network, and the infrastructure in the hotel building to give access to guests.
The primary difference between your home and a large hotel is that the tiny boxes you have in your home to give you your internet aren’t sufficient to provide wifi coverage throughout a large building with tons of walls and floors. One access point (like the one you have in your house) can really only cover a small area, around 100-150 feet or so. To help all the guests throughout the hotel, including in the guest rooms, hallways, lobbies, restaurants, cafes, by the pool, and more, get access to the wifi, the hotel has to put the access points all over the place to broadcast the signal. All of these access points have to be connected to the network. SO just imagine that there are a lot of cables running all over the place that you can’t see to make that happen.
Hotels may also utilize a management system for the wifi. It could be open, without login or passwords required. Or they could restrict the wifi access to the hotel guests, by requiring a username and password. The management system may also control use of the wifi bandwidth so that someone doesn’t come in and hog it all.
How safe is hotel wifi?
Hotel wifi is not necessarily safe. If the hotel care about safety of its guests’ information, it should hopefully be restricting access to the wifi to guests and other approved individuals, and not making it a completely open network. In fact, if the network is completely open (not requiring login credentials at all), I can’t recommend that you use it. Any wifi that is completely open to anyone without restriction is a potentially hazardous place for you to connect, because there is no guarantee at all that hackers aren’t trying to use the system.
If the wifi is restricted to guests through credentials, this is certainly better than an open network. But again, remember that the more people who can connect to a network (and do), the more likelihood that your information could be stolen or spied on by others who also have approved access to the network. Just because people have the appropriate credentials to sign in to hotel wifi doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to try and do something bad using the network.
If you have to use it, make sure you take steps to protect yourself. Utilize sites that have an SSL (look for the HTTPS in the web address).
Not sure what HTTPS means? We’ve got a http/https basics article, which explains it for you.
While this is not the case across the board, many hotel wifi networks do not utilize sophisticated corporate level security systems.
Don’t use the wifi to transmit any sensitive information. And if you have one, utilize your VPN (virtual private network) to further shield yourself. Yes, the VPN will slow things down, and you may already be struggling with slow internet at the hotel, but if you have to send sensitive information utilizing the hotel wifi, you need to do everything you can to protect it.
How much does it cost for a hotel to provide free wifi to its guests?
There’s a great answer to this question over at Quora, which I will quote (and link):
You can estimate 1 WAP per 8 rooms. Each access point (high quality) is around $500. So you are already at approximately $16,000. If you need to drop cabling, then you may be looking at around $100-170/cable drop + programming. Let’s say on the high side… $5,500. Then you need a server, controllers, and switches. Approximately 12 or 24 WAPs on each switch but if you have multiple floors and wired cabling, this may differ. (I don’t know the prices of switches right off the bat, but I believe they can range from $300 – $3000 depending on manufacturer, specs and features. The server + license can range from $1,600 to $7,000. Oh yeah, and don’t forget labor and the lobby/public spaces.
(source) I assume WAP means “wifi access point.” The amount it costs will depend upon the number of rooms. And don’t forget maintenance!
Can hotel wifi see what you are doing?
Yes and no. Hotels can direct all website traffic through a device that monitors and logs the source and destination of internet requests. In general, they aren’t going to be looking at what you are looking at, live while you are viewing it.
However, (and this is going to be country specific), in the US, the government doesn’t allow hotels to view or save emails sent through the servers.
If you don’t want anyone to know that you visited specific websites, or took specific actions on a website, I wouldn’t recommend that you utilize hotel wifi.
And don’t forget, if your hotel wifi is open, ANYONE can keep an eye on what you are doing on the internet, not just the hotel.
Can hotel wifi track your history?
Yes, hotels can keep track of the websites visited using its wifi network (and choose websites to block).
Do hotels monitor your internet use?
Generally, they don’t actively watch it, like the guys in the Matrix. Hotels may have alerts for specific events set up in the system to draw their attention, but in general, it is not cost effective to have hotel employees or contractors sitting around staring at computers all day to see what you are doing on the wifi.
Why is the internet at hotels so bad?
It costs a lot to cover every inch of the hotel. Hotels are not big rooms. They are full of small rooms, long corridors, and twists and turns. Wifi signal does not travel well through walls. Instead, it tends to bounce around in the space near to where the access point broadcasts it. If there is nothing to bounce the signal back, the access point might get you great service. But because you want to use the internet in the bathroom, with the door closed, in a tiny hotel room, and the access point is located 4 rooms away from you, with multiple walls to get through, it is not surprising that the signal is poor.
In most cases, when the hotel wifi is bad, this is a sign that the hotel has not invested in enough or in the quality of hardware and infrastructure to deliver the speed of wifi you would like.
Further, there may just be a lot of people utilizing the same network, which leads to congestion, and brings down the speed for everyone overall.
Safer alternatives to using hotel wifi while traveling?
The experts recommend using a high quality VPN if you have to use the hotel network. As an alternative, it is actually safer for you to utilize your mobile data (4G, etc) than it is to use use the free included hotel wifi. Yes, this might cost you more than usual for your phone bill, but then again, it might not, especially if you have a larger data plan.