Google once held a press conference to announce that the firm and its partner, EarthLink, would provide San Francisco with free Wi-Fi. It didn’t instill much confidence in the attendees that the conference Wi-Fi was down until the event’s last few minutes. This is not rare. Wi-Fi gridlock at conferences is embarrassingly commonplace.
“OUTGROWING THE SPEC”. When wireless devices first appeared and the iPad rental was a novelty, conferences offered free Wi-Fi to keep attendees surfing happily. All that personal, bandwidth-wasting activity continues to this day with many more users, even as conference Wi-Fi is also pressed into service for official activities and communications.
The problem? Wi-Fi was not designed for auditoriums with thousands of people milling about, backpacks and pockets stuffed with iPods, tablet PC rentals, laptops, and smart phones. (Truth be told, there’d be no Wi-Fi problem if people would leave everything in those backpacks and pockets.) What to do? Let’s review…
EVOLUTION OF WI-FI. Standard Wi-Fi covers relatively small areas, providing access to devices making only modest demands for bandwidth. Even now, conference organizers and Wi-Fi consultants still underestimate bandwidth requirements and other factors. It is not only a matter of attendance figures, or how many attendees will have a net-ready laptop computer and other gizmos. Many things come into play, from the size of the room(s) to the amount of reflectivity (hard walls) and absorption (bodies, carpets).
CONFERENCE SOLUTIONS.Simply adding access points won’t guarantee success. In fact, that is likely to make things worse by creating more interference and introducing additional security flaws. The following actions can help:
Choose wisely: Read our blogs, do some research, ask questions, and check references so that you can choose a venue that has already solved the problem.
Down, boy: Attendees can be advised to turn off devices that aren’t mission-critical, and to avoid downloading large files. It won’t be the most popular mandate, but it will help.
Wired ports in a storm: Our MacBook Pro rental has an Ethernet port, but Apple’s next generation won’t. As many wireless problems (interference, signal loss) have yet to be resolved, a wired Ethernet port comes in handy. Of course, this won’t help all of your attendees and it’s far from ideal. But in a pinch, it can be helpful.
The simplest move? Talk to us. We have custom event Wi-Fi service solutions that can put signals in places that have none (it sounds like magic, but it really works!) and can distribute Wi-Fi access to hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous users without service drops.
EXHIBIT SPACE SOLUTIONS.If you will attend and/or exhibit at a conference that you know will have Wi-Fi problems, you can soften the impact with some planning:
Minimize Wi-Fi: Make phone calls and access online resources in advance, and locate wired access points to use when needed.
Try Mi-Fi instead: Personal hot spots through many carriers can support up to five devices, but there may still be interference issues.
Teamwork: One conference team member can be the communications hub, securing a wired access point, even if it’s in a hotel room, and keeping everyone connected and informed. If you rent laptops, you can share files without Wi-Fi via flash drives, AirDrop (with Macs) or cross-platform with the nearly ubiquitous Bluetooth.