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The mystery of the Wifi drops in our office started about a month ago, and drove our infrastructure team nuts. A few times per day, more often during lunch, our Wifi connection dropped. Cannot tell you how annoying that is, especially when we use a lot of cloud services, and our staff is highly mobile between their desks and the conference rooms. The engineers that troubleshooted the issue had no explanation. We knew we had an issue, the monitoring clearly saw the issue. Quite annoying technical problem.  We finally realized that anytime someone warms up their Lean Cuisine in the microwave in the kitchenette, the Wifi drops.  Real story.

wifi conference centers So, if we cannot get Wifi right in an office with 20 desks, how can we get it right on a trade show floor with tens of thousands of devices?

iPad, iPhones, Android, Kindle Fires – all trying to connect on the conference or trade show floor – put a huge load on the Wifi networks. These are not your Dlink settings you have in your home, but high performance Cisco routers that cost tens of thousands to install and operate. Still, one of the major complaints on the floor is around poor connectivity.

In the 24×7 we all live in, Wifi or cell tower connectivity is 100% expected, and 2012 is the year predicted that the wifi will get fixed…and this is what keeps at night the infrastructure managers for the large convention centers.

When designing our application, we made a very hard decision – we will assume that 90% of the time our users’ mobile devices will not be conncted to the network, still will be able to have the core functionality in place: see the agenda, the bio of the speaker, rate an event, add a session to the personal calendar. The real-time integration with twitter and other social media will not work, obviously. A very hard decision, and we still stands by that. It makes us very different than other conference planning tools, that require 100% of the time connectivity. And made our technical solution a lot more complex to develop – but what a delight for our users when they can still use the app when not connected.

But more on wifi at Conferences, and why we think it will take at least 3 to 5 years to turn this around. Why is this such a thorny issue:

Architecture issues: A lot of the convention centers were built as fortresses, so now Wifi access points are difficult to execute.

Heavy investment: For a trade center, the Wifi infrastructure alone can run from 500K to a lot more than that – not inexpensive technology.

When talking to the infrastructure managers that try to keep the capital costs down while maintaining competitiveness, this is one of the wicked issues. The problem is compounded by the price that will be require to recover such investment – is not uncommon for a booth to be charges $100/ day for Wifi connectivity.

Security: The other issue to consider is security of the Wifi network. Everyone expects open access – with all the manageability complexity of the firewall and scanning.

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