What will replace the guestroom phone?

The announcement of another mobile housekeeping app (this time from Northwind, see below) prompts me to wonder when we’re going to see an inexpensive replacement for the in-hotel telephone system. The need for a hotel PBX has been declining for years through the self-reinforcing combination of

more travelers using their cell phones and hotels charging the highest possible rates for calls from the in-room phone.
The phone system is still in place, though, largely because of legal requirements for the guest to be able to contact the front desk from a precisely-identifiable location in case of an emergency during a power failure. Cell phone location identification still hasn’t reached that level of precision. Those few hotels without guestroom phones, mostly “technology-free” resorts such as the late lamented Kona Village Resort in Hawaii, have relied instead on devices such as fire alarm pull switches in each room, a far from elegant alternative. Intercom systems have been suggested but not adopted; in-room tablets provide great communications with the hotel staff, but cannot be guaranteed to be sufficiently charged for emergency use and suffer from the same location-identification problem as cell phones.
Housekeeping had become the other main reason guestroom phones were still needed, as these were a fast and effective means of updating a room’s readiness status through direct-dialing codes into the front office system. Recently, though, more housekeeping operations are turning to mobile devices for status updates (usually smart phones or iPod Touch units) because they can provide more efficient notifications of the next room to be cleaned to meet immediate priorities, such as an early-arrival guest waiting for her room or a just-departed guest whose room is now known to be free for cleaning. Mobile devices are also essential for mixed-use properties such as resorts where the housekeepers service not only guestrooms but also condominium units and private residences, none of which are on the hotel telephone network.
Constantly-growing demand for WiFi and cell-phone coverage throughout all properties is driving the installation of more and more wireless access points and cell-phone signal repeaters. This will in time lead to greater accuracy in locating cell-phone positions through triangulation, but it will still then take a while for laws to be changed to allow this as an acceptable guest-location approach. In the meantime, a number of my clients have old PBX systems that have been out of production for many years and can only be kept running through a scramble for parts on the used-equipment market. Failure of the system would put them in violation of the emergency call regulations, but they’re understandably reluctant to invest in a replacement for a system that is seeing less and less use.
What we need is a really inexpensive, basic device – PBX, usable intercom, whatever – to handle the minimum legal and guest-service needs over existing guestroom wiring. Any takers? I now confidently expect to be inundated with information from vendors whose products I’ve overlooked!

One Response to “What will replace the guestroom phone?”

  1. Ken Tisdale Says:

    While owners may not want to invest in a new system, once parts availability declines, it’s prudent to invest in a system that will last a “useful” 20 – 30 year lifespan.

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