04:31 PM

Seaport Hotel In-Room Portal Converges Voice, Web Services

The so-called SeaPortal is unique because it combines telephone and Web services over a service-oriented architecture.

The Seaport Hotel in Boston is testing an in-room portal that enables guests to make telephone calls and access hotel services and the Internet from a touch screen.

Geared toward business travelers, the so-called SeaPortal is unique because it combines telephone and Web services over a service-oriented architecture. In addition, the new technology makes use of the hotel's existing PBX system, a less-expensive approach than replacing the in-house telephone switching system.

The portal runs on top of BlueNote Networks' SessionSuite SOA Edition, an Internet-based communications platform that's exposed as a collection of Web services. When a call is made in-house, the SessionSuite server routes it through the PBX system. If the call is outside the hotel, then SessionSuite sends it over Seaport's high-speed Internet provider as a voice over IP call, similar to services provided by Skype or Vonage.

For hotel guests, the system appears on the touch screen as a portal similar to a Web site. There's a welcome section that introduces the service, a destination guide for sports and entertainment, dining, news and weather, and other information; and a section for guest services that include hotel features and Web browsing.

The system is attached to the in-room phone, which rings when a guest presses an icon to make an in-hotel call to housecleaning, the concierge or other service. Picking up the phone automatically makes the connection. To call outside the hotel, the guest presses on a phone link that calls up a keypad.

In building the system, Seaport, which houses many of the business travelers attending conferences at the adjacent Boston World Trade Center, is hoping to boost customer loyalty, John Burke, vice president of technology for the privately held hotel said.

"Customers view this as a tool that they can use so they don't have to bring their laptops with them when they travel," Burke said. "They see that as a major benefit."

The portal provides Web mail access, and includes a viewer for reading attachments. In addition, there are USB ports for storing messages or documents on a portable flash drive, or a guest can choose to have a document printed in the hotel's business center. All the services are available at no additional charge, including local and long distance calls made in the continental United States, Burke said.

Ron Schmelzer, analyst for ZapThink, said the portal is unique because it takes all the services normally offered separately on a traditional telephone and through a TV remote and brings them all together on a single touch screen based on a service-oriented architecture.

"They were able to converge voice services that a hotel offers with the non-phone services," Schmelzer said. "It's because of the compose-able nature of Web services, that they were able to avoid a big integration project."

For the hotel, the system is part of its gradual transition from its traditional Nortel PBX system to Internet communications, Burke said. "This is a way to try new technology without ripping and replacing the existing infrastructure."

Seaport started deploying the BlueNote system Sept. 23, 2006, rolling it out to 10 rooms on Dec. 28, Burke said. The hotel plans to deploy the system in a total of 100 rooms, and then test its effectiveness, and gather customer feedback before moving forward. The hotel has approximately 450 rooms.

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