Monday, December 29, 2014

Hilton Worldwide Holdings supports Marriott's blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots

In the latest update to the debacle surrounding Marriott being fined $600k for blocking personal Wi-Fi devices on its properties, Ars Technica reports Google and Microsoft are fighting Marriott's Wi-Fi blocking request.

What I found most interesting in the Ars Technica article is this paragraph:
The American Hotel & Lodging Association, Marriott International, Inc., and Ryman Hospitality Properties submitted a public comment on Marriott’s behalf on Friday, saying that the hotel was merely exercising "reasonable network management practices.”
I find it interesting that the document linked from the article was submitted by Hilton Worldwide Holdings in support of Marriott. I have not seen other headlines indicating other hotel chains are siding with Marriott. I have only seen headlines that Google and Microsoft are fighting Marriott's Wi-Fi blocking requestI then tried to find out which hotels are members of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, but I came up empty handed. I was hoping to see which hotel chains I could switch to if Hilton and Marriott are successful in their petition to block the use of personal Wi-Fi devices in their properties.

In the original Marriott case, the Wi-Fi blocking was being done at Marriott properties in the conference areas to force exhibitors to pay Marriott to have an access point installed for the duration of their conference. This practice is similar to that of hotels forbidding outside food or drink in conference areas which have been booked for events. All food and drink must be purchased from the hotel, along with the room for the event.

A friend of mine told me a story of the last time he stayed at a Marriott in O'ahu. He was using Marriott points to stay there for free and didn't want to pay the $14/day Marriott was charging for Wi-Fi. In the list of broadcast wireless networks was an SSID called "Screw Marriott". Naturally, he was curious and joined the Wi-Fi network. He was presented with a captive portal which said they would provide Wi-Fi at a reduced rate of $4 a day, which would allow him to stick it to the Marriott (as indicated by the SSID). He called the phone number shown, made payment via PayPal to an email address and happily used the "Screw Marriott" network for the week he was there!

If you read the Hilton filing closely, it states that hotels should have the ability to block your personal Wi-Fi to keep their Wi-Fi operational. What it does not say is how they would be blocking personal Wi-Fi devices. I wonder if they were blocking by SSID keyword (jetpack, ClearSpot, MiFi etc) or by spoofing the MAC address of the personal Wi-Fi device once it is detected. If the hotel is blocking by SSID keyword, this list would have to be curated by someone on the Marriott IT team to include the thousands of SSIDs detected by the Marriott wireless infrastructure. If the Marriott IT team is doing an active containment by using their access points to pretend to be the "rogue" access point and tell any associated clients to de-associate. Keyword SSID containment would be an arduous task, and personal hotspot users might escape detection during short hotel stays. Active containment would be a much quicker and invasive method for blocking personal hotspot use.

Either way, I will be monitoring my Mi-Fi connectivity during my upcoming hotel stays. I am currently a member of the Hilton loyalty program and I'll be watching to see if Hilton joins Marriott in blocking Mi-Fi usage. If major hotel chains are successful in the FCC petition to block personal Wi-Fi devices, I will make the switch to staying at a B&B or to a hotel chain which does not engage in this practice.


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  2. That's really kool!! bRecently i read an article whic says, Wireless technology capable of boosting data speeds by more than ten times, will be seen in 2015!! Also WiGig, the technology is able to encode more information due to its higher frequency radio signal. This can allow up to seven gigabits of data to be transferred per second, compared to the maximum 433 megabits per second available with current Wi-Fi.

  3. This is pretty interesting, I hadn't actually heard this little tidbit despite being in hospitality when this all came down; I'd imagine Hilton wanted to keep this quiet, especially after the FCC took a hard stance against Marriott. I recently had to write up a fair amount of documentation for another large hotel brand who's WiFi I managed (you can probably guess who) to prove to the FCC that we weren't doing the same thing in meeting space or guestrooms. I'm glad the FCC ruled as they did, hotels gouge the crap out of event companies for as much as possible and this was too far IMO. BTW, Marriott was using rogue suppression functions in case you were still wondering.