Grand America Hotels and Resorts

Aruba 802.11ac addresses density and performance while also helping boost revenues for fast ROI

With his organization hosting more than a million guests a year and catering to tech-savvy conference clients, Matt Ballif’s existing Wi-Fi network could no longer handle skyrocketing mobile device densities and accompanying demands.

Grand America Hotel, Salt Lake City

“Not long ago, good wireless coverage was all we needed,” says Ballif, Director of Event Technology at the Grand America and Little America Hotels in Salt Lake City. “Over time, hundreds of devices began connecting simultaneously in our various meeting and conference spaces. This became a real struggle.”

Seeking a Flexible, Scalable, High-Density Wi-Fi

To replace his ill-performing hodge-podge system and insufficient management tools, Ballif sought a flexible, high-density enterprise WLAN his organization could leverage to generate event revenues and answer customer requests on the spot.

“For example, if a group came to us requesting a certain amount of bandwidth after they were already on-site, we needed a way to provide it quickly,” he says.

“Overall, we needed a high-performance solution that would help us generate sufficient revenue from our event business to enable updating the Wi-Fi in our 1500 guest rooms as well,” Ballif adds.

Aruba’s Solution Answers Meeting, Event & Guest Needs

With Aruba, our technology-savvy customers say we’re providing them with Wi-Fi amenities others can’t.
Matt Ballif, Director of Event Technology, Grand America and Little America Hotels

As the flagship properties among a portfolio of hotels and resorts, the Grand America – a AAA Diamond Award-winning, Forbes Star operation – and the Little America – a beloved local landmark – would also serve as proving grounds for a portfolio-wide Wi-Fi modernization.

Ultimately, the upgrade would include properties such as San Diego’s internationally-rated The Westgate Hotel and Utah’s 2002 Olympic venue, the Snow Basin Ski Resort.

For the robust, reliable and scalable Wi-Fi needed to support such premier facilities and their discerning clientele, Grand America collaborated with trusted partner Red Sky Solutions to select Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company. Also, throughout the project, Red Sky provided specification and installation services for the hotels.

WLAN Addresses Varied Demands

Little America Hotel, Salt Lake City

To supply high-performance, high-density wireless connectivity for 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space, Ballif’s team deployed Aruba 802.11ac indoor access points (APs) and 7200 Series Mobility Controllers.

Additionally, the hotels invested in Aruba’s network management tool, AirWave, for optimizing Wi-Fi experiences.

Providing customized bandwidth on the fly

Now, Ballif offers his customers virtually any bandwidth they need, without degrading experiences for other event attendees or hotel guests.

“Just recently a group requested over 500MB of bandwidth,” Ballif says. “Not only did our Aruba infrastructure enable us to provide it, we could also regulate that bandwidth to ensure no single device consumed more than 3MB.”

This strategy ensured that no one user, or small group of users, monopolized the group’s allotted connectivity, he adds. “And, according to the feedback we received, everyone’s mobile experience was still fantastic.”

Supporting first-class attendee experiences

The new Wi-Fi also handles device densities with ease. During one event, the Grand America saw an average daily use of 800 devices in a 150 x 150 meeting space.

“In the past, such device densities proved problematic,” Ballif says. “With our Aruba infrastructure, we delivered the top-notch attendee experience our customers requested.”

AirWave Enables New, Value-Added Services

According to Ballif, AirWave’s benefits go beyond streamlining and automating administration of his sizeable WLAN. In addition to providing visibility into every AP, Ballif has utilization information at his fingertips to assist with troubleshooting and network planning. He’s even providing customers with a new, value-added reporting service.

Robust, granular reporting pleases customers & builds loyalty

Ballif leverages AirWave’s robust and granular reporting capabilities to supply event managers with Wi-Fi utilization statements – at whatever level of detail they require. “Before, it was frustrating because customers would ask about bandwidth consumption and we had no answers,” he says.

“Now we give customers a meaningful statement,” he adds. “The data useful to the customer and it helps with relationship building to encourage repeat business.”

Achieving Significant ROI – Fast

With all the new capabilities supporting the hotels’ event revenues, Ballif predicts a quick payoff on the Wi-Fi investment. “Our ROI will probably be less than a year and a half,” he says.

“In other words, the entire upgrade – both meeting spaces and guest rooms – is being funded by the revenues generated by our event business,” he adds. “As wireless is often mission-critical for our customers, it’s clearly also a key factor to our success.

Immediate Success + Future Opportunities

Moving forward, Ballif plans to evaluate Aruba’s ClearPass Policy Manager, which would allow the hotels to define policies based on user roles. “This would enable us to offer tiered services to hotel guests and event attendees,” he says.

In addition, the parent company is testing Aruba Beacons and the Meridian Mobile App platform at its Sun Valley Idaho resort property. Officials are interested in the potential marketing and promotional services associated with a mobile app and beacon deployment, as well as allowing guests to use various capabilities, such as wayfinding, to navigate around the resort.

Technology-savvy clientele gives Wi-Fi two thumbs up

According to Ballif, the new Aruba infrastructure is already an overwhelming success on many levels, particularly in terms of revenue and retention.

“Many technology-savvy event and hotel guests tell us we’re providing technology amenities that most properties can’t, making us unique,” he says. “Our wireless infrastructure is critical to continue providing customers with such high levels of service.”