Overwhelmed WiFi

Conferences, airports, and the proliferation of mobile devices.

December 11, 2013

Have you been experiencing more WiFi connectivity problems in public places? At conferences? Airports? On campus?

Instances where your wireless Web access bogs down to a frustrating slow pace?

Or where you simply can’t get on the network?

You are experiencing AP (access point) overload.  

This WiFi connectivity problem seems to be particularly pervasive at conferences.  

Spending a few days with my wife at the hematology conference (ASH) was an exercise in connectivity frustration at New Orleans convention center. I’d get a web connection and then lose it. I’d have enough speed to browse, and then sessions would turn over and the hallways would fill and my connection would ground to a halt.  

Sometimes I’d have a strong signal, the next minute bupkis.

The New Orleans airport is even worse. As I type this post from gate B4 (wondering if weather will delay our flight home), the free WiFi keeps going in and out. One minute strong, the next a wireless wasteland.

The culprit is all those smart phones and tablets that we’ve become so fond of.

Looking around the gate B4 I am witnessing a herd of humans staring into screens. Little screens. Big screens. Some people seem to be looking at two screens at once.

Little kids have devices. Old people have devices. My wife has a device.   

All these devices are WiFi enabled. All of these devices are trying to connect to the WiFi access points.  

All of these devices are slowing down my connection.

Public Wifi access feels to me like a war that we are not quite winning.

I’m not sure if conference organizers and airport managers and whoever else is in charge of the WiFi can keep up with all these smart phones, tablets, and laptops.

Internet enabled devices are not only spreading to all areas of the population (toddlers, people born during the Hoover Administration), all these folks are carrying multiple devices.  

What does this mean for our campuses?  For our classrooms?

When students show to up to campus carrying a minimum of 3 web-enabled devices (laptop, tablet, smart phone) will the classroom, library, and student center access points be able to keep up?

What happens when 3 WiFi connected devices seems like a happy memory?  When everyone has the equivalent of a FitBit, Google Glass, and WiFi Watch?

Will our wireless future be one of slow and dropped connections?

How should campus network professionals be planning for the coming explosion in network hungry devices?

What has been your conference and airport WiFi experience?


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