“WiFi: If It’s Free In The Lobby, Why Not On The Show Floor?”

As more people carry smart phones, tablets and other WiFi enabled devices everywhere they go, including to conventions and events, Smart City has begun to offer free WiFi in lobbies and public spaces of our facilities. This complimentary amenity enables our guests the ability to connect to WiFi for basic tasks, like checking email and surfing the web. So, why not just extend the service to the exhibit floor?

While this may seem to be a natural extension of a facility’s WiFi network, we have serious concerns about the ability to guarantee the consistent quality of the complimentary WiFi service on the trade show floor. In explaining the challenges of delivering WiFi in an environment densely populated with thousands of devices all searching for a WiFi signal, one must first understand how WiFi works.

An article published by Foundry Networks that explains the engineering basics of WiFi – including how a Wide Area LAN works, how access points are deployed, how devices access the network and the situations that can degrade the service. Since the article was printed, equipment has improved and more bandwidth is available, but the basic RF technology of the wireless network is the same now as it was then. On the trade show floor, the basic density and interference issues identified in the article then are magnified today because of the concentration of people and the ever increasing number of devices they are bringing with them.

In addition, some devices create new challenges for network designers and operators. As detailed in the second attached article from Gartner, the signal which iPads transmit to and from the WiFi network is different than traditional laptops. In environments which have a significant share of mobile devices (such as a trade show), an iPad rich environment will 300 percent more access points on a WiFi network to achieve the same level of performance as a traditional laptop.

If offered on the trade show floor, more people will undoubtedly utilize a free WiFi service – simply because it is free – instead of a more reliable wired connection for mission critical tasks, like exhibit presentations. These additional users and their multiple devices will add even more pressure to the network even in the smallest shows and cause the system to run slowly.

Our priority is to offer reliable connectivity for event attendees and exhibitors. Free WiFi on the trade show floor can jeopardize the wireless connectivity capability for all users, free and paying. As your technology provider, we hope this information provides you with additional insight and understanding of WiFi technology and its capabilities and limitations. Please feel free to reach out to your local Smart City team for any additional clarifications or information on this or any other technology related subject.

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