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Boston Hotel Is Booking Thin Clients Into Rooms

The Seaport to use devices for Web access, VoIP calls

By Patrick Thibodeau
May 7, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - John Burke, vice president of technology at the Seaport Hotel in Boston, is betting that he is at the forefront of an emerging trend in hospitality services: giving guests a reason to leave their laptops at home.

Internet access is now as expected in hotel rooms as soap and shampoo are. So to try to set itself apart from its rivals, the Seaport has decided to up the ante and outfit rooms with thin-client systems that have full Internet access.

Burke said the hotel has installed thin clients made by Igel Technology Inc. in 85 of its 426 rooms and plans to put them in all of its rooms over the next 12 months. The devices are integrated into 17-in. flat-panel monitors with touch-screen capabilities. They run an embedded version of Windows XP, support applications such as Adobe Acrobat and include a wireless keyboard.

Seaportal thin-client devices will provide guests at Bostons Seaport Hotel with information about services and access to the web.
Seaportal thin-client devices will provide guests at Boston's Seaport Hotel with information about services and access to the web.
The Seaport isnt the first to try the thin-client approach. LodgeNet StayOnline Inc., an Atlanta-based company that offers interactive TV and broadband services in hotels, installed in-room thin clients at one national hotel chains facilities in 2002. But Mark Henderson, the companys vice president of marketing, said the technology didnt hold up well under use by guests.

Henderson thinks most guests will still rely on laptops or, increasingly, cell phones and other handheld devices for Internet connectivity. He added that IPTV  television delivered over an IP network  could serve multiple purposes, such as letting guests use the TVs in their rooms as monitors for their laptops.

Bob ODonnell, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the use of thin clients is an interesting way for a hotel to distinguish itself. But he believes that it will be a niche market, at least for now, and that the devices will primarily be confined to higher-end hotels such as the Seaport. Standard TV sets have low screen resolutions for Web browsing, but that will change as hotels adopt IPTV and high-definition TVs, ODonnell said.

Burke also predicted an eventual convergence of devices, with a single entertainment system providing television, computer and phone services to guests. But he said that there are immediate benefits to deploying the thin-client setup, called the Sea­portal, in guest rooms.

For instance, the Seaport is using the thin clients to provide voice-over-IP service via its existing PBX system. That capability is supported by software from BlueNote Networks Inc. in Tewksbury, Mass.

Burke said a guest can make a telephone call by dialing the number on the thin clients monitor, which prompts the phone in the room to ring. When the guest picks up the handset, the call is completed.

There may be other payback opportunities as well, Burke said. The hotel will rely on the thin clients in lieu of publishing a guest services book, and it may use the devices to offer exhibitors at its convention center a way to keep conference attendees updated.

According to Igel Technology, which is based in Germany with U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the thin clients list for $959 each. Burke said the systems will have low support costs because his staff will be able to remotely handle tasks such as clearing a devices memory after a guest checks out.

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