Wireless not for the likes of us: The Dorchester

Wired for in-room services

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Top London hotel The Dorchester is completing a refurbishment which includes PCs and up to six 100Mbit Ethernet connections in every room, with e-butlers to help guests get connected. But in a move to avoid wandering PC users from lowering the tone of the hotel's public areas, there is no wireless connectivity.

"I'm not sure you want to walk into the hotel and find 50 people around the promenade, all with laptops out," says Dorchester general manager David Wilkinson. "We have focused attention on the guest rooms - we believe we have the most advanced hotel rooms in Europe."

Inside the rooms, what looks like a flat screen TV in an ornamental cabinet is actually a 42in NEC plasma screen on an HP/Compaq Pentium 4 PC fitted with a Hauppage TV card. The system can be driven via either a TV-style remote control or an infra-red keyboard.

There are also connections for a laptop, with switch-overs allowing it to drive the plasma screen for presentations, or take control of the HP printer/copier/scanner hiding in a second cabinet. The hotel says 10-15 per cent of guests bring laptops, and the figure is rising.

Services available on the big screen include local and international TV channels, Internet radio, music and video on-demand from a set of media servers in the hotel basement, Web browsing and Microsoft Office. In the pipeline are extra features such as online room service and restaurant booking.

System software was developed for the Dorchester by London-based Neos Interactive and the installation handled by Computacenter.

"It's not easy putting a system into a working hotel," says Wilkinson. He adds that the human element - the hotel's three e-butlers - is essential: "A lot of the time, when technology falls down in hotels it is because there's no one there to help."

He says wireless networks can be set up in the banqueting suites for special events, while suites can be linked with private LANs. The hotel is also looking at equipping its own staff with handheld PCs. ®

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