We’ve all been to conferences and other types of events where there’s Wi-Fi service, but it is too slow or even unusable. I asked people who set up Wi-Fi networks for crowded events what one must do to ensure that users have a good Wi-Fi experience.
One wireless ISP provided the following tips:
(1) Plan that each attendee will bring 2 to 3 devices. Thus you need to optimize your network to handle that many devices.
(2) There are two variables that you have to deal with properly to have a successful event: Access and Performance
Access: The worst thing that can happen at an event, is for attendees not to be able to access the Wi-Fi network. Absolutely the WORST! Any event network should be designed to handle the maximum device load at peak times. This usually means utilizing access points of enterprise quality that can sustain large numbers of simultaneous connections. I use Apple Airport Extremes at the events I do as I’ve demonstrated that they can sustain 170 connections, while Apple claims that they can only do 50. When an AP is overloaded, it will refuse any new connections from attendees.
Performance: With respect to performance, you can always depend on the attendees at any event to use whatever bandwidth you provide to the max. Bandwidth for special events can be quite costly. Event organizers have to strike a balance between their budgets and how much they care about giving their attendees a pleasant network experience. Most attendees can deal with slow performance, but they won’t tolerate not being able to access the network.
(3) It’s important to prioritize traffic over whatever bandwidth you provision for the event. This is all about making the best use of a scarce resource. Web traffic for instance, should have priority over file transfers.
(4) Attendees who use things like MiFi at an event should be tracked down and shot! (just kidding) In the real world, you need to figure out a way to get as many of your attendees on 5 GHz as possible. This gets them away from the MiFi and other nonsense that goes on in the 2.4 GHz band that can effect Wi-Fi at any event. I usually set up special SSIDs that work on 5 GHz and tell the event organizers to tell attendees to use those SSIDs if their devices can see them.
Rory Conaway, founder of TriadWireless (a wireless ISP) and author of the popular, Tales from the Towers series on MuniWireless, says when setting up the network one must buy the appropriate equipment and this changes (as well as the number of APs) depending on the size of the room and number of people. Here are his general suggestions for equipment for an event.
1. Small room
(a) 25 people or fewer
Ubiquiti UniFi or pretty much anything on the planet
(b) 25-100 people
Ubiquiti Pro or any dual channel AP. You might need 2 of them.
(c) 100-120 people
Ruckus or Xirrus
2. Large room
(a) 100-300 users
(b) 300-500 users
Ubiquiti Unifi Pro, Ruckus, Xirrus
(c) 500-2000 users
3. Large conference rooms
(a) 1000-5000 users
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Why conference WiFi sucks and how to improve it (with tips from Tim Pozar)
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If you have other tips on how conference and event organizers can improve the WiFi experience at events, please post them in the comments section below.