You've no doubt found challenges in ordering and using voice and data services in hotels. What you hope to hear is: "We are fully equipped for all of your voice and data requirements. Let me have our telecommunications manager call you today."

Here's what to do to stack the odds in favor of getting that response: Ask about communications technology during site selection. Don't wait until the business is booked. Here's a checklist of items to look for in the site selection phase.

Network/Data Services Checklist * Does the hotel have standing high-speed (T1) Internet access available in meeting rooms? If not, you have to bring it in and pay for it all.

* Is this service routed through the hotel over one of the dominant networking technologies, like Category 5 cable using IP and Ethernet? If not, expect that your team will need to make modifications so that your attendees can connect.

* Does the hotel have technical staff on site to support the sale of this T1 service? Meet them.

* Is there a firewall between the property's network and the public Internet? If so, you may find that the communication with the Internet host server at your home office is not what you expected.

* How does the hotel assign Internet Protocol addresses to your network devices? A DHCP server is the best answer, but don't expect to find too many. (DHCP, or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, provides a mechanism for allocating IP addresses so they can be reused when hosts no longer need them.)

* Does the meeting room cable plant (the switches, routers, and cables that comprise the network) provide data services to every meeting room?

* Can the meeting room cable plant be physically or logically divided into separate networks? If not, there is a possibility that others on the network could "see" your traffic, creating a security liability.

* Are dial-up ISDN services offered? Unlike a T1 to the Internet, basic rate ISDN lines can offer dedicated point-to-point digital service on a dial-up basis.

* Are the ISDN lines set up for video, data, or voice? How much lead-time does the facility require to meet your needs? Since service must be coordinated with the local telephone company, it should take at least 72 hours.

Voice/Phone Services Checklist * Can the facility provide digital phones to handle multiple calls, hold, forward, and transfer features? These are essential if you plan to have an exhibition with a show office on site.

* Are Direct Inward Dial (DID) numbers available, so callers don't need to go through the hotel operator to reach you? Can your DIDs be assigned before the meeting? If you can publish DIDs and extensions in your conference materials, the telephone service will be that much more useful.

* How many extensions can be serviced in the meeting room you will be using as an office during your event? Are there analog as well as digital lines? Are there enough wires? Don't forget your fax machine needs an analog DID line.

* Do they use a patch panel to route telephone service to specific locations? Is it secured? A patch panel makes routing inexpensive and flexible.

* Can the hotel's telephone accounting system automatically post calls to your account, or must a clerk manually charge you? This is a two-edged sword: Automatic posting is fast and accurate. Manual postings often never happen. Some properties charge a daily rate for usage.

* Is the hotel's PBX trunked adequately so that you can dial out even when there is a high volume of calls? If not, there is always a cell phone!