Implementing a Network for an Hotel

One of my jobs as a network solution provider in the past year has been the implementation of a robust LAN for one of the oldest hotels in Nigeria. In addition to being a sort of how-to, this post is a lessons-learnt write up to serve as a guide should you have to handle a somewhat similar project. Here goes…

AN HOTEL

To most people, an hotel is typically where people stay temporarily while visiting a particular place. However in addition to rooms which serve to accommodate guests, a hotel can have one or more of the following:

  1. Halls for programs, seminars etc
  2. Offices for staff
  3. Open areas (car parks, swimming pool)
  4. Business Centre

Generally, most hotels can get by with a simple LAN; a few PCs, 3G router with Wi-Fi, maybe. But with almost 300 rooms, over 1 dozen structures comprising halls, offices and shops, sprawled over 7 Hectares, this hotel’s requirement was not going to be simple.

EXISTING SOLUTION

Surely, before we got called in, the hotel had an existing network. Technically, this prior implementation is described below:

  1. A flat network, on a single 192.168.1.0/24 network.
  2. All users co-existed on this single network i.e hotspot, office etc.
  3. At the heart of this network was a PC-based hotspot system.

In addition, the existing network was set up with the goal to be affordable at the expense of efficiency, as a result the network suffered from:

  1. Poor network speed due to:
    1. Improper cabling: use of indoor cat5e all through, even in outdoor, in-ceiling and shallow-ground runs.
    2. Aged equipment: having been in service for over 4 years, aging had taken its toll on the majorly mikrotik RB4xx APs.
  2. Zero Resilience/Security:
    1. Being a flat network, a guest PC on the hotspot was capable of compromising a staff computer (which was also on the hotspot).
    2. Authentication was solely based on a username-password combination.
    3. Except of specialized LANs created for some staff, network printing, share etc was impossible.
  3. Poor user experience:
    1. With numerous low power APs, each with its own unique SSIDs littering the premises, guest would have to manually search among over a dozen SSIDs before being able to access the hotspot service.
  4. …and many more.

THE CLIENTS REQUIREMENTS

The client was keen to leverage on our expertise to solve the following challenges:

  1. Reduce cost of bandwidth while increasing the available quota
  2. Improve the overall network stability and experience
  3. Carry out 1 and 2, while keeping TCO to the barest minimum. (yes, we tried)

OUR SOLUTION

First off, we determined the following after speaking extensively to both I.T and non-I.T personnel:

  1. The types of network users within the facility i.e by department, job function, location e.t.c.
  2. The current bandwidth utilization profile (which was unavailable)
  3. Other challenges, asides those earlier mentioned

INCREASE INTERNET BANDWIDTH

We recommended that the client migrate from VSAT which it had been using to a solution delivered via terrestrial P2P radio link. What this meant was an immediate 42% reduction in bandwidth cost, and an accompanying increase in bandwidth by 4-folds, from 256Kbps to 1Mbps. This meant there was more bandwidth, to make the surfing experience for users more pleasurable.

SEGMENTING THE NETWORK

We observed that it was possible to deploy Wi-Fi extensively, as only servers required wired networking. We were then able to come up with the following categories of users, based on location and department:

  1. Staff Offices
  2. Business Centre
  3. Hotel rooms

We would later describe the VLANs we created by OFFICE, CYBERCAFE & HOTSPOT.

So yes, we deployed the Mikrotik RB2011 UAS-RM at the heart of the LAN. As an affordable high performing router with admirable features including an SFP cage should we decide to backhaul on fiber, we found the RB2011 just right for our clients needs. We also deployed the RB2011LS-IN and the RB951, both to allow for extending the virtual networks to the extremities of the network. On the core router, we implemented the following:

  1. VLANs (OFFICE, CYBERCAFE & HOTSPOT)
  2. Firewall
  3. Hotspot
  4. MAC (time-based) access to internet
  5. Bandwidth management, using Queue
  6. Dynamic & static DHCP

STRUCTURED CABLING

We also implemented structured cabling. This involved:

  1. Laying of Cat5e UTP for indoor cable runs
  2. Use of Cat5e SFTP for indoor and outdoor ceiling areas, where interference could be an significant. Note: In the Nigerian market today, indoor and outdoor SFTP cables are one and the same.
  3. Use of Cat6 UTP for Hotel blocks – which required cable runs slightly over 85m.
  4. Use of gel-filled Cat6 for buried runs.
  5. Laying of over 300m of 16×25 trunks along the hotel room corridors, where the ceiling was inaccessible. We ran the cables in 3 above through this.

In addition, we installed a 9-U cabinet as prior to our work, existing equipment had been placed on a wooden table/platform.

OUR ATTEMPT TO REDUCE TCO – GONE WRONG

In order to reduce the TCO of the project, two strategies were employed, which eventually almost led to our own undoing and a very dissatisfied client. The ways by which we tried to save cost were:

  1. Phase the project:
    1. Implement the core and backhaul network, while installing critical APs.
    2. Build upon 1 and blanket the entire external premises with Wi-Fi Coverage
    3. Implement indoor Wi-Fi to serve new generation of mobile users i.e phones, tablets.
  2. Re-use as much of the existing equipment as possible: This was the biggest mistake we made, as one after another, these re-used equipment failed or were terribly erratic.

Both the phasing and the re-use approach were flawed as on one hand, phasing such a project would mean poor customer experience however you cut it – especially if the phases were more than 4 weeks apart. On the other hand, re-using “aged” equipment only led to a run-off of client confidence.

WI-FI ACCESS NETWORK

For the Access Points, we used a combination of Ubiquiti outdoor APs and Engenius EAP-300s for the indoor areas. We relied on PoE extensively – favouring the denser Planet PoE switch for 802.3af compatible devices , as against powering individually. This allowed us back the APs up centrally with a UPS.

Since we were not interested in Airmax, our Ubiquiti bullet APs were installed with off the shelf Omni and sector antennas.

NETWORK SECURITY

Clients simply generalize network security as “We don’t want people stealing our Internet”, and we ensured this by implementing multiple levels of security based on the type of user.

For hotspot users, the APs were configured with no password as the captive portal was meant to request for user credentials before granting access to the internet.

For the office network users, we implemented a combination of WPA2 security with MAC authentication using a Mikrotik’s firewall functionality on the core router. What this meant is that if your MAC address was not in the access list, even if you stole the WPA pass-phrase from a friends PC, you still were not going to access the internet.

COMPONENTS OF OUR SOLUTION

In all, the components of our solution are:

  1. 1x Mikrotik RB2011 UAS-RM
  2. 1xMikrotik RB2011 LS-IN
  3. 1xMikrotik RB951
  4. 2xMikrotik metal 2SHPn
  5. 2xUbiquiti Bullet M2
  6. 2xUbiquiti Nanostation 2
  7. 39xEngenius EAP-300
  8. 4x16Port Dlink Switch
  9. 3x16Port Planet PoE switch
  10. 2xGell-filled Cat6 300m
  11. 9xCat5e SFTP 300m
  12. 5xCat6 UTP 300m
  13. 190pcs of 16×25 Trunks
  14. 4x 5m galvanized steel poles
  15. 1 Bag of cement incl. sand and granite
  16. …and lots of accessories (Flushre plugs, RJ45s, tapes, tie-wraps etc)

TIPS

For the project manager, the following are the human resource you would require to implement this project (in 2 weeks):

  1. 2x Network Engineers
  2. 5x Network Technicians
  3. 1x Electrician
  4. 1x Bricklayer
  5. 1x Welder

For the network engineer(s), you will require your typical tool set, in addition to:

  1. Good understanding of VLANs, firwall and Mikrotik’s implementation of hotspot.
  2. 2 Drilling machines and 1 dozen 6mm bits
  3. 3 Foldable ladders. 2 to 3 metre high would do just fine.
  4. 2 10m long extension cords.

There you go!

It was fun (and sometimes plain frustrating) overall.

Should you need a cost-effective network built today for tomorrow’s needs, fill the contact form below and we’ll get in touch instantly. Also, you can call Dayo on 08028443225 or email dayo.ayeni@tekartng.com, and we’ll be more than happy to provide free needs assessment.