What is 5G and How Will it Impact Hotels?
By Jordan Hollander
Last updated January 26, 2022
5 min read
As a forward-thinking hotelier, you always want to be aware of the latest trends in the industry. You make the necessary investments and updates to ensure your hotel is always ahead of the competition, especially when it comes to technology. But maybe you’ve heard about 5G or WiFi 6 and aren’t quite sure how they fit into your hotel’s operations. You may be wondering if this new technology is expensive or if there are any downsides. Or maybe you’re wondering if 5G or WiFi 6 are even relevant to your hotel. In this article, we’ll outline exactly what these new technologies are and what they mean for the hotel industry. In just a few minutes, you’ll have the answers to your questions about 5G vs. 4G and new insights about WiFi 6 so you can make sure your hotel has the technology infrastructure that guests expect.
What is 5G and How Does it Work?
If you aren’t very familiar with 5G, that’s okay! 5G the fifth generation of mobile broadband, which would eventually replace 4G - the type of connection you likely have on your smartphone. Currently 5G is only available in a few cities, but it’s expected to roll out on a wider scale sometime soon, though it’s not clear exactly when. The main differences that 5G brings are lower latency (allowing devices to be more responsive), larger channels (to download big files faster, for example), and the possibility to connect lots of devices at once (such as smart home devices).
That all sounds great, but you may be wondering how exactly 5G works. Unlike the 4G networks available now, 5G uses three different frequency bands. A frequency band’s speed depends on the number of channels and how wide of a range it has:
Low-band (airwaves up to 1Ghz): Offers the widest reach, but the fewest number of channels out of the three bands. This means low-band offers a lot of coverage (even strong wall penetration, which is helpful if you use your phone in a high-rise or a parking garage), but there aren’t many channels, so the speeds for low-band 5G are comparable to 4G. Out of the US cell carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile use low-band.
Mid-band (airwaves between 1-10Ghz): Offers slightly less reach than low-band (about a half mile from the tower), but more channels, which means mid-band carries the majority of 5G traffic. This one has decent speed and decent coverage. In the US, only Sprint uses mid-band right now.
High-band (airwaves 20-100Ghz): Offers the most potential for 5G. Currently high-band isn’t used often for consumer devices, but it can deliver super-fast speeds. The range of this frequency is quite limited, though (around 800 feet from the tower), so cell service providers may experiment with installing smaller antennae in more locations in order to deliver reliable high-band service. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are using high-band.
In theory, the unique 5G network architecture means that no matter where you are, you can have ultra-speedy mobile broadband. In practice, however, studies show that the average real-life 5G connection isn’t that much faster than the 4G that’s widespread today.
4G vs. 5G: Where Are We Today?
If 5G has so many advantages - and if it’s already in some cities - why hasn’t it rolled out across the world yet? There are two main reasons for the sluggish rollout: the expensive infrastructure upgrades required and the need for 5G-compatible mobile devices.
“The shift to 5G feels like a tech revolution happening in slow motion. In 2019, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest American carriers, lit up their 5G networks in a small number of cities. Handset makers released only a handful of phones compatible with the new standard. The overwhelming majority of us saw no meaningful improvement to our cellular networks.” ~NY Times
In order to make 5G a reality, mobile carriers need to upgrade the cell towers that transmit the signal. This process is capital intensive and takes a lot of time, so carriers don’t seem to be in a big hurry to make the changes. At the same time, device manufacturers, like Apple and Samsung, need to upgrade their smartphones to have 5G compatibility. Currently only a few smartphones can use a 5G network. But when carriers aren’t upgrading towers, manufacturers are hesitant to make the changes on their side.
We hear a lot about 5G because of its speed. If we compare 5G vs. 4G, 5G allows has dramatically faster download speeds and in the future your smartphone could be up to 600 times faster than it is today on 4G. The lightning-fast 5G network architecture alsos make it possible for information to be transmitted across the globe in milliseconds, which would make futuristic-sounding things like downloading an entire HD Netflix movie in seconds possible. 5G speeds will also be advantageous to any devices using artificial intelligence. However, some critics are skeptical about the safety of 5G frequency. Until further studies are conducted, we don’t know if 5G dangers could include a higher risk of cancer or other medical issues.
What Does 5G Mean for the Hotel Industry?
Despite a lot of buzz in mainstream media, 5G won’t actually affect the hotel industry that much. As a hotelier, you won’t need to do anything to make any upgrades related to 5G specifically, but you may find that guests are more engaged with hotel apps and less likely to pay for WiFi access when they’ve got blazing internet in their pocket.
If your guests have 5G speeds on their smartphones, they can download mobile apps or web apps like INTELITY super fast which undoubtedly will accelerate adoption in areas like mobile key. If you have a hotel app, you may see more engagement simply because the apps are more accessible. Guests won’t need to wait a minute while the app loads; it will show up nearly immediately.
Because of the fast mobile internet speeds, guests won’t rely so much on hotel WiFi. If WiFi is free, they will likely still use it, but if your hotel charges a fee for WiFI, why would a guest purchase it when they have potentially faster speed in their pocket? Hotels that charge for WiFi should consider eliminating the fee, otherwise guests will skip the WiFi connection.
WiFi 6 is Actually More Important than 5G
Speaking of WiFi, wireless internet is also about to get a big upgrade with WiFI 6. Like 5G vs. 4G, WiFi 6 is also faster - about 30% faster than the current WiFi standard. While this speed increase isn’t as dramatic as the shift from 4g to 5g, it makes a difference for situations in which a lot of users share a WiFi connection, like in a hotel. As we add more and more WiFi-enabled devices, an increase in speed will also help your hotel’s smart thermostats, smart speakers, and smart locks perform better.
While 5G may have more of an impact on individual smartphone users, WiFi 6 will undoubtedly be a big deal for hotels - probably a bigger deal than 5G. In fact, many hotels have poor cell reception in at least one part of the building so having strong WiFi is crucial for both guests and employees using any kind of operational hotel software.
While fast WiFi is nice for streaming movies and having video calls, hotel systems also require reliable WiFi for smooth operations. Many properties now have in-room tablets with platforms like INTELITY that connect to a hotel’s WiFi network. An INTELITY tablet is packed with features that allow guests to order room service, chat real-time with hotel staff, find answers instantly, and submit requests - all of which require the hotel’s WiFi network, not a cellular connection. With cutting-edge WiFi technology, hotels can build stronger engagement though tablets and apps.
Though we hear a lot about 5G in the news, for hoteliers, WiFi 6 will be the next big thing in technology infrastructure. HotelTechReport will keep you informed about WiFi 6 as more information becomes available so you can make the necessary upgrades. With WiFi 6, you can leverage in-room technology to provide better service, which in turn drives positive guest reviews and repeat business.