Case Study: Alva Hotel, Hong Kong

AV and ICT systems are brought together by SmarTone Solutions and Comm-Tec to create a guest and inroom experience that is not only seamless for the user but also positively impacts the bottom line of the operator at Alva Hotel, Hong Kong.

In our recent exploration of the hospitality sector in Asia Pacific, two trends shaping the market were evident. Firstly, hotel operators are turning their attention to the guests and any investment in technology must demonstrate perceptible value. Secondly, AV and IT are coming together to create a new breed of technology systems for hotels which can deliver the outcomes operators require.

With these two trends as a frame of reference, it is easy to contextualise the direction of Alva Hotel in Hong Kong. SmarTone Solutions was engaged to provide a turnkey solution, serving as the consultant, primary contractor and software developer, to create a modern hotel facility. Comm-Tec Asia played a supporting role, lending its expertise to help design and provide AV technology systems for the project.

Daniel Leung, general manager for enterprise solution development, products and services division at SmarTone Solutions, talks about the beginning phase of the Alva Hotel project: “The brief from the client was two-fold. First was the user experience and second was productivity especially within the context of the service provided at the front desk. Guests don’t like to queue or wait in line to get to their rooms. Alva Hotel has six counters in the lobby and that is really good capacity to ensure that guest bookings can be verified, and they can be checked-in in a quick manner. But they wanted to improve this even further.”

He continues: “In relation to the user experience, Alva Hotel wanted to completely change the in-room experience of the guests with screen mirroring and casting. The trend among consumers right now is that they like to view their own content, be it from YouTube or any other streaming platform. Taking this into account, allowing the users to view their content on the in-room TV was very important for the hotel.”

Checking in

SmarTone Solutions proposed and deployed its Cross Channel Customer Engagement Layer [XCCEL] at the Alva Hotel to help it achieve its aims with respect to the guest experience. XCCEL is an integrated digital channel platform with systems such as hotel management, door key management, self-service check-in and more.

Leung from SmarTone Solutions provides further details: “We’ve built a platform that allows guests at the Alva Hotel to have a completely streamlined experience through an app that can be installed on their smart device. This app allows you to check in or check-out and access all the services available at the hotel. It allows you to turn your mobile phone into the key for your room, you can use it to activate the elevators and much more. From the user perspective, they can do everything by themselves.”

XCCEL completely changes the way guests experience the environment at Alva Hotel and Leung says: “The hospitality industry represents one of these economic sectors which takes increasingly intensive advantage of the available ICT systems. ICT plays a specific role and is regarded as the key factor for adding intelligence to a hotel’s effective functioning. These ICT systems not only allow improved management and higher efficiency, but also facilitate achieving high service levels which can result in much better satisfaction of demanding guests.”


In-room experience

XCCEL also impacts the in-room experience as Leung details: “The in-room guest experience has been automated. With the app users can control the TV, select the channels, mirror their device or cast from it and even access services such as housekeeping. The guests don’t really have to call the operator anymore as all the services can just be accessed from the app. All of this is made possible with the cross channel customer engagement layer that we have developed which links with all he other systems via APIs and has an intuitive GUI.”

But the real wizardry in the rooms at Alva Hotel is the IPTV system. Magnus Lam from Comm-Tec Asia details: “We selected ZeeVee as the IPTV headend and Exterity IPTV server is used for distribution. The content signals are received via satellite and received by the ZeeVee headend. ZeeVee then converts the signal to IP and it is passed along to the Exterity servers and distributed to the Sony TVs in the hotel rooms. The unique thing about the IPTV system at the Alva Hotel is that there are no set-top boxes in the rooms, we use the built-in media players in the Sony TVs along with the robust IPTV system that has been deployed.”

The products deployed were selected to ensure the best possible outcome for Alva Hotel. Chris Yang, managing director at Comm-Tec Asia says: “ZeeVee was crucial for the IPTV system. We are using the ZeeVee HD Bridge and it is a card-cage unit. With regards to expansion, we can just add cards in to support more channels and expand the system. It not only provides mission critical service but also the flexibility to upscale. The decision to go with a cage-based system meant that we could avoid having just boxes and boxes in the headend. Not having a set-top box in the rooms is also very unique. The set-top box is an additional point of failure in the overall system and SmarTone Solutions’ proposition to the hotel operator meant that there is no need for additional power supply and an additional point of failure and that appealed to the client.”

Leung from SmarTone Solutions adds: “ZeeVee was able to provide a cost-effective and large capacity headend system. This is becoming more important in hospitality because of the change in consumer behaviour where guests want to be able to access their own content which means that hotels are no longer willing to invest heavily for in-room content systems. But at the same time, TV is almost a mandatory service in hotels. So, we have to explore technology that is cost-effective and easily expandable.”

HDCP compliance and content protection was a requirement and both ZeeVee and Exterity products provided this. IPTV signals are distributed via Cat cabling and four Netgear multicast IP switches.

Lam from Comm-Tec Asia explains the qualitative impact that the designed IPTV had: “There are approximately 600 rooms at Alva Hotel, which means that 600 set-top boxes have been replaced with just four Netgear multicast IP switches and the Exterity distribution system. This offers significant cost savings to the hotel.”

The decision to create the in-room experience Alva Hotel desired came with new challenges for the integrator but these were overcome with teamwork. Leung from SmarTone Solutions says: “With the mirroring and casting features we implemented, we needed a good UX to ensure that the guests would be able to use it. On the other hand, we also had to protect and ensure the security of the content that is being cast. Not compromising the UX and the security meant that we had to implement special network segmentation. But this arrangement together with IP multicast meant that the complication of the network design increased. Fortunately, we had a good partner in the form of Comm-Tec and they were able to provide us a good design for the network infrastructure to provide IPTV services together with mirroring and casting and a very simple way for guests to use it in a very simple manner that does not require any complicated procedures to access it.”

AV technology has also been deployed in other spaces of Alva Hotel as Leung from SmarTone Solutions says: “Alva Hotel seeks to cater to young professionals which is why it has invested in its facilities such as the digital gym. It features a videowall and a 5.1 speaker system. The Crestron DM ensures that different content sources and IPTV can be delivered to the videowall. We use a Hall Research audio de-embedder to strip the audio signal from HDMI after which it is fed to an Extron processor and then sent to QSC speakers to ensure quality audio.”

The 3 x 3 videowall comprises Samsung UM55H-E flat panels. As Leung mentions, a Crestron 4K Digital Media presentation system is used to manage the video and content sources. Audio is provided by QSC KS series speakers and subwoofer with a QSC Core110f DSP, Extron Sound Processor SSP7.1 and Hall Research EMX-HD-AUD unit working in the backend.

Regarding the challenges faced during the course of the project, Leung from SmarTone Solutions says: “Managing the project was the biggest challenge. We have a good relationship with the customer but as the project progressed the requirements changed as well. As the prime contractor, we had to expand the scope of our involvement to make sure that the project was completed on time.”

He adds: “The technology and the products that we are using might be very mature, but integrating it together is something different. There are always complications that we have not foreseen that arise during the implementation and it is our job to put the whole system together.”

Yang from Comm-Tec says: “We were working with a lot of different brands and we had to smoothly deploy approximately 600 rooms. We had to get the Netgear switches working, deliver mirroring for the in-room TVs and one of the challenges was the installation time we were given. Luckily, we had support from the suppliers, especially from Exterity and ZeeVee. This meant we could do quick turnaround for any changes and we were able to resolve all issues.”

Leung from SmarTone Solutions believes that the future of hospitality is interconnected. He concludes: “I’m currently drafting the roadmap for the future of our smart hotel solutions. There are three major trends influencing the market. First is IoT which is a mature technology now, with the additional of sensors anything can be turned into a digital endpoint. Second is 5G which be an important addition to hotel infrastructure allowing guests to access more robust wireless networks and thus allowing us to do more with apps. Lastly, we will need data analytics to be able to understand how guests are using the technology so that hotels can explore additional revenue streams.”

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