The wireless access at the Web 2.0 Expo has been horrible. This is a common theme for many big conferences, but this conference has set a new low. I know a few IT pros who have set up wireless at conferences and it's a serious challenge when using standard wireless equipment, mostly because of the scalability constraints of 802.11b/g.
However, last fall when I went to Interop in New York, I had a great wireless experience for the first time. The wireless connection there was reliable and provided great performance throughout the entire event, including the keynotes. In fact, it was the first time that I had ever been to a conference that had wireless where the wireless network didn't become unusable during the keynotes because of user overload. At Interop NY, my wireless connection never had a single hiccup or slowdown during the keynotes. I was very impressed, and I eventually discovered why it was so good.
One of the vendors that I spoke with during the conference was a company called Xirrus that had a new wireless product -- a super-charged wireless access point (actually a collection of 4, 8, or 16 APs in a single box that they called an "array") that was built to bring wired reliability to wireless. After they gave me the standard demo they told me, "Oh, and by the way, we're also doing the wireless for this conference." We walked around the show and they pointed up to the rafters where I could see their big wireless arrays hanging up there. I was amazed and thrilled that the wireless scalability problem had apparently been solved. (Click here to see what I wrote at the time and a photo of a Xirrus array.)
Since CMP was the organizer of Interop and was also the co-organizer (with O'Reilly) of this week's Web 2.0 Expo, I had hoped that Xirrus would be the wireless provider here so that I could expect the same kind of great wireless experience. I looked for Xirrus arrays in the rafters but didn't see any, and I soon discovered that the WiFi was being powered by a collection of basic Cisco Aironet 1200 wireless routers. With all of the laptop-toting attendees I saw when I arrived at the conference yesterday, I figured we were in trouble with that setup. Unfortunately, I was right. The wireless connectivity was in-and-out yesterday and virtually unusable all day today. I've definitely missed the kind of reliability and performance that I got last fall at Interop thanks to the Xirrus arrays.
Ironically, while I was writing this post during the middle of the keynote today, one of the moderators on stage said that the wireless network was not overloaded and that anyone having problems -- when they asked if anyone was having wireless problems, half of the attendees in the room raised their hands -- should see the help desk on the second floor. Translation: A lot of people are complaining about the wireless network, but it's not our fault. It's a problem with all of your laptops.
So, in a room that seats about 3,000 people, there were 1,500 with bad wireless cards. Right. Sure.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.