Wifi on the bookshelf in Prague

How and Why Airbnb Should Verify Wifi

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I’ve spent over 400 nights in Airbnb properties all around the world. My wife and I are what you might call unofficial Superguests. I’m writing this blog post from an Airbnb in Prague (there’s the router at the top of this post). I’ve talked to many friends who work while they travel, and there is definitely a consensus: when you stay at an Airbnb, you have no freaking idea how the internet is going to be. And that can be incredibly challenging if not terrifying.

Routers are old and cut out, requiring frequent reboots. Connection speed can be so poor, that any web page is at risk of timing out. Need to upload a video to a client on a half-meg connection? Good luck with that. And it’s not like you’re in a position to call an ISP and troubleshoot in Thai or Italian or Czech.

Airbnb For Work: WifiWhen you view an Airbnb listing, you’ll see that it does or doesn’t have Wifi. That’s it. Does or doesn’t. There is no sense of quality, stability or speed. Reviews (which are searchable) very rarely mention it.

Even Airbnb’s “For work trips” don’t have any information beyond the Wifi “toggle.” You think this groovy Dream Studio in Athens below (which is a “Work” listing) has good Wifi? You’re just going to have to go with your gut. I can assure you that any attempt to get a host to run a speed test is largely a lesson in futility and they are going to think you’re a pain in their butt.

dream studio athens

Look, if you’re staying a couple nights in an Airbnb, it’s probably not that big of a deal and this is a tempest in a teapot. But if you are staying a week or a month, there really isn’t anything more important than Wifi. So what can Airbnb do about it?

How Airbnb Can Verify Wifi

airbnb netgear verified wifiBack in 2014, I proposed a Verified Wifi hardware solution. The idea was that Airbnb could partner with a company like Netgear to send hosts a small box that plugs into the wall and connects to the host’s wifi network. This box would periodically run a speed test and send the results to Airbnb. After a week of testing, the property would be assigned a speed rating and reliability number, which is then displayed on the listing. The data is then used to build an overall internet speed profile for any neighborhood or city.

Four years later, I think this is a much simpler software solution.

As a reference point, Airbnb is rolling out post-stay surveys. These have gotten increasingly detailed over the past few months. Here’s an example inquiring about linens, pillows, soap, etc.

airbnb survey

The next step in the survey returns to the Wifi “toggle” but hey, at least they asked, right? What we want to address here is the misconception that it is sufficient to simply ask if a host does or doesn’t have Wifi.

did this host have wifi?

First of all, in order to verify Wifi, Airbnb needs to inquire with Guests while they are at their stay. This is critically important, as the Guest can provide hard data that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Airbnb might want to limit it to stays of a certain duration, perhaps 3, 5 or 7 nights or more.

Secondly, Airbnb may want to help Users (knowing that a User is sometimes a Host, sometimes a Guest) build a profile spotlighting certain things that are most important to them. This could work for any number of amenities, not just Wifi, and may play in well to Airbnb’s increasing focus on Experiences outside of the actual Stay.

The Speedtest Manual Option

Regardless of the method that Airbnb uses, it has to be mobile-friendly and integrated into the Airbnb app. The most rudimentary option would be to direct users to the Speedtest app to run a test, and simply input the results into a form. At a minimum, this would include Download and Upload speed, and perhaps the additionally-available metrics: Ping, Jitter and Loss.

The Speedtest Screenshot Option

speedtest wifi optionAn interesting text recognition option may be that the User opens the Speedtest app, runs a test and uploads the screenshot, by attaching an image from the phone’s photos. Because Speedtest has such a consistent UI and UX, it would be fairly trivial for Airbnb to read the data from a screenshot. (This 157/40 screenshot shows the fastest Wifi I’ve ever tested at Forrest, a lovely little vegan bistro in the Vinohrady neighborhood of Prague)


Strategic Partnership or Built Option

The most elegant solution would be to incorporate it into the Airbnb app. The Guest would receive an app notification (and/or an email) after checking in, deep-linking them into the app. Airbnb would have built their own testing tools or done a strategic partnership with Ookla, integrating a white-labeled or co-branded Speedtest into the app.

The user would confirm they are on the Host’s network, perhaps matching the network name that the Host has inputted for their Listing. A simple “Start” button would run the Speedtest and collect the info. Easy!

I’d guess that Airbnb has discussed various rewards program models – verifying Wifi data would integrate into a rewards program nicely.

How To Use The Wifi Data

The immediate usage is to rate any one particular Listing once it has received a certain number of verifications. This might be in the form of a thermometer, an extra little badge, a stoplight model or a numerical rating. Airbnb has been using Verified Photos for years to give Guests a better sense of what they can expect. Extending this to Wifi and other amenities is a natural iteration.

Browsing Airbnb’s listings, I might set a filter for Verified Wifi, which could limit search results or add a badge to listings that have been verified.

Let’s aggregate that data further. Airbnb can build heatmaps, and overlay listings on top of it. Any traveler knows that Wifi tends to be better in certain areas, and that doesn’t always correspond to population. In fact, a lower population density might have extremely high internet speeds because there is less data being pushed through a fat-enough pipe. Or a wealthier area might test faster because residents pay for faster connections. Or mixed-residential Listings might benefit from the infrastructure built for local businesses.

neighborhood wifi heatmap

Airbnb can then, presumably, sell this aggregated data to any number of corporations, be they ISPs or real estate developers or even McDonalds. A Fast Company article from 2014 detailed how fast food chains “use data overlays which allow them to see auto traffic, consumer demographics, safety information, commercial mix, and other factors saves them significant money when deciding which properties to open up in.”

Why I’m Still Skeptical

Do I think Airbnb is likely to do any of this? No.

Airbnb has shown a strong propensity to build revenue by focusing exclusively on Hosts. For instance, they have built tools for Hosts that can maximize rates. The ecosystem is clearly weighted towards Hosts (and Superhosts), with a painfully faint nod towards Superguests. Seriously, that vaporware screenshot below is all they have, along with this ridiculous thread where Superguests qualify by washing their dishes.

Airbnb Superguest program - LOL

Airbnb has the opportunity to provide a far superior experience to those who travel on a frequent basis, often staying in one location for a week or more. With a pending IPO and awash in $4.4 billion in venture capital, it is remarkable that efforts to this effect are non-existent. I’m pessimistic, and very much hoping Airbnb proves me wrong. Brian Chesky, you can always reach out!

Comments 2

  1. Great post. I totally agree Airbnb should provide a reliable wifi speed test result with tiers.

    However, I think you’ve gone a lot further and over-complicated it with the strategic partnership stuff. Ookla (speedtest.net) is already doing that and their dataset is already orders of magnitude beyond what Airbnb could ever generate.

    I use an app called Work Hard Anywhere (App Store “WHA”). It’s foursquare with an added metadata overlay for digital nomads (plugs, wifi speed, etc). It includes a WiFi speed test when you check in. It just asks: “Are you at the location and connected to the wifi?” yes? running a speed test.

    Now, that alone is still problematic because guests can suck… “I ran the test standing in the street out front”, or “I ran the test but on my phone and it wasn’t actually connected to wifi”, or whatever… so it _still_ need to be collected in aggregate and outlier data purged. Still, this is certainly something Airbnb can and should do simply enough by sending at a survey the day after check-in.

    I do think speed test result should be reported in tiers (slow, medium, fast) or “1Mbps+, 10Mbps+, 100Mbps+”.

    Somewhat unrelated, but you alluded to above with the idea of profiling users searchs. WTH does Airbnb not save my default filters? I’m sooo sick of ticking “2 guests, entire home, 1bd, 1ba, kitchen, wifi, laptop friendly work space, and washer”. I get “Work trip” is mostly that, but I really don’t need “self check-in” and the 1bd helps filter out studios.

    While I’m ranting in your comments… also for the love of all things Airbnb needs to add a freaking amenity option for “dishwasher”. I will gladly pay +$5 a night on a month long stay for a dishwasher

  2. Post
    Author

    Hey Jon!

    As always, you have a ton of great information to add. The strategic partnership idea was primarily to integrate Speedtest into the Airbnb app, so its a seamless experience. It sounds like replicating Speedtest, or WHA’s tech, would do the trick.

    Regarding the tiers, would you say the minimum seems to be about 2MB, as anything below that starts getting really unstable? In Rome we were getting about 6MB down, and only .5MB up, and that’s where the struggle was. In Luang Prabang, the entire city capped out at about 1.5MB from what I could tell, and that was a rough week (plus I got electrocuted in my Airbnb’s shower, lol). Maybe the tiers would be Adequate (2-10), Good (10-20), Great (20+)?

    re: related searches – ha, yeah, that’s definitely a thing. You are not alone, my friend. But a dishwasher? It always ends up as a drying rack for us…

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