Are venue wifi networks turning the corner?

I’m currently at the APRICOT 2013 conference in Singapore. The conference has over 700 registered attendees, and being Internet geeks (and mostly South-East Asian ones, at that), there are lots of wifi enabled devices here. To cope with the demands, the conference does not use the hotel’s own internet access.

Anyone who’s been involved with Geek industry events knows by painful experience that most venue-provided internet access solutions are totally inadequate. They can’t cope with the density of wifi clients, nor can their gateways/proxy servers/NATs cope with the amount of network state created by the network access demands created by us techies. The network disintegrates into a smouldering heap.

Therefore, the conference installs it’s own network. It brings it’s own internet access bandwidth into the hotel. Usually at least 100Mb/sec, and generally speaking, a lot more, sometimes multiple 1Gbps connections. The conference blankets the ballrooms and various meeting rooms in a super high density of access points. All this takes a lot of time and money.

According to the NOC established for the Conference, most concurrent connections to the network are over 1100, s0 about 1.6 devices per attendee. Sounds about right: everyone seems to have a combination of laptop and phone, or tablet and phone, or laptop and tablet.

One thing which impressed me was how the hotel hosting the conference has worked in harmony with the conference. Previous experience has been that some hotels and venues won’t allow installation of third party networks, and insist the event uses their own in house networks. Or even when the event brings it’s own infrastructure, the deployment isn’t the smoothest.

Sure, we’re in a nice (and not cheap!) hotel, the Shangri-La. It’s very obviously got a recently upgraded in-house wifi system, with a/b/g/n capability, using Ruckus Wireless gear. The wifi in the rooms just works. No constant re-authentication needed from day-to-day. I can wander around the hotel on a VOIP call on my iPhone, and call quality is rock solid. Handoff between the wifi base stations wasn’t noticeable. Even made VOIP calls outside by the pool. Sure, it’s a top-notch five-star hotel, but so many supposedly equivalent hotels don’t offer such a stable and speedy wifi, which makes the Shangri-La stand out in my experience.

There’s even been some anecdotal evidence that performance was better over the hotel network to certain sites, which is almost unheard of!

(This may be something to do with the APRICOT wifi being limited to allow only 24Mb connections on their 802.11-a infrastructure. Not sure why they did that?)

As the Shangri-La places aesthetics very high on the list of priorities, they weren’t at all in favour of the conference’s NOC team running cables all over the place, so their techs were happy to provide them with VLANs on the hotel’s switched infrastructure, as well as access to the structured cabling plant.

This also allowed the APRICOT NOC team to extend the conference LAN onto the hotel’s own wifi system – the conference network ID was visible in the lobby, bar and other communal areas in the hotel without having to install extra (and unsightly) access points into the public areas.

This is one of the few times I’ve seen this done and seen it actually work.

So, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering if we’re actually turning a corner, to reach a point where in-house wifi can be depended on by event managers (and hotel guests!) to such an extent they don’t need to DIY anymore?

1 thought on “Are venue wifi networks turning the corner?”

  1. Interesting.. has certainly been my experience in Asian hotels too. They seem to be much further ahead than equivalent hotels in Europe. I do still find lots of venues in the UK who boast about their connectivity, wifi etc.. however they are thinking of attendees in a ‘general’ conference and not a tech conference – the latter’s connectivity requirements being more demanding. As you say.. about 1.6 devices per attendee. It is only a matter of time.. very short amount of time… when a general attendee will have the same connectivity requirements… (and the tech attendee’s requirements even more) and I think many conference venues in the UK do need to keep this in mind.

    For the time being I think DIY is the only way to ensure that requirements are met and I look forward to the day when it will not be required. 🙂

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