Toward accountable conference connectivity

I don’t envy providers of wi-fi at conferences. Nor do I envy anybody else in a risky business, even when they charge a good buck for it. But I do appreciate them. I forget the name of the outfit that provided wi-fi at PC Forum in days of yore, but they delivered the goods. Wi-fi nearly always worked there. Bravo to Esther and her suppliers. We miss them.

On the other hand, wi-fi at most conferences sucks rocks. There are all kinds of reasons, usually boiling down to demand hosing supply. Sometimes it’s because the hotel just doesn’t have the pipes for it. Sometimes it’s incompetence, equipment failure, software failure, or some combination of the three.

Last year at here in Paris, the wi-fi failed on Day One, and worked on Day Two. While waiting for a plane afterwards (which I’m doing again now), I talked at some length to a young guy who worked with Swisscom, which provided the Net to LeWeb. He told me that they hadn’t anticipated all the iPhones that would be trying to connect at the same time as all the laptops.

This year I was told that Swisscom was again the supplier. But this time Day One and Day Two both sucked. Connectivity was occasional at best, and completely down at worst. I found it useless. The startup competition was hampered severly by it, since the companies couldn’t strut their stuff.

Some context: LeWeb was bigger this year, and I would guess that well over a thousand laptops and other devices were trying to get on and do stuff simultaneously, much of the time. Yet Swisscom no doubt promised to deliver, and Loic and crew had every right both to expect them to deliver — and to refuse payment should Swisscom fail.

I haven’t talked with Loic about this, but I would hope that he could collect damages for Swisscom’s failure. Because when you’re putting on a show caled LeWeb, your Net provider should guarantee that Le Web is available to attendees and participants. I dunno if Loic got that guarantee, but I hope he did. Because what happened was surely damaging to a bunch of people, including both attendees and organizers, who didn’t deserve it. They put on a great show.

Here are pix from Day One. I’ll put up Day 2 after I get back home to Boston.

[Later, now in Boston] Here’s LeWeb’s post on the same topic. Its bottom line: Nothing worked basically, it has been totally unprofessional and unacceptable from a major supplier such as Swisscom.

9 comments

  1. sy’s avatar

    The Berkman Center events and communications crew says,
    “Amen, brother.”

  2. Kris Tuttle’s avatar

    There’s no reason for it not to work, I have no problems in MIT buildings when I am there. I sent a message to Loic when he was setting it up that at Web 2.0 Expo Berlin they had problems because they didn’t realize that now attendees at these events carry two or three devices *on average* that expect connections. Some people have 4. Most installers seem to think in terms of what they know which is “a good portion of the audience will have a laptop.”

    Of course the truth is that *everyone* in the audience has 2 to 3 networked connected devices plus what’s on the show floor.

    What’s frustrating is that this was a “surprise” six months ago but should no longer be one. Of course three or four years ago we didn’t expect to get wi-fi, now we are shocked when it isn’t there.

    P.S. – It was surreal to see you in a suit and TIE yesterday. Wow.

  3. Todd’s avatar

    Absolutely. Earlier this week, was at the Coalition for Networked Information  www.cni.org) conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington. The connectivity was horrible. Although the team (kudos to CNI staff BTW) had setup up four different wifi routers, the pipe was just too small and the network settings were drastically set to discourage usage. It would time out after 2 minutes. If hotels are going to charge through the nose for this service (and they do), people should expect better results.

    If you’re planning a tech meeting, get service level commitments in writing from the venue. If you can’t try somewhere else. Your attendees will only be frustrated and more likely than not, they’ll blame you as the organizer, not the hotel.

  4. Antonio Volpon’s avatar

    Wouldn’t it be possible to limit band usage and connections per station so that everyone can at least read email and post on their blog or is it impolite behaviour? I’m sorry for the ones that want to upload 1 Gbyte of videos, but maybe they can do it when they go back home.

  5. Chip’s avatar

    Amen on PCForum
    The first and foremost, the bleeding edge

    Was in a couple of meetings today, and Dan Gilmore and you ( I think you get credit ) “interaction” with Joe Nachio was mentioned.

    Also:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98138643

    C

  6. Rick Calvert’s avatar

    If convention internet service providers in France are anything like the ones here in the states Doc, Loic will be very lucky to get 10% of his money back.

    There is no such gaurantee that any vendor would give. They don’t have to when they are the exclusive provider. It is one of the things I constantly fight against in the event industry

  7. HeavyLight’s avatar

    I rarely hear enquiries about wifi availability at the events I’m involved with (mostly for the banking and insurance sectors) in the UK — almost all delegates rely on HSDPA, either via usb dongles or directly from their phones.

    Wouldn’t it be an idea to specify the anticipated number of simultaneous connections and the total bandwidth required before signing a contract with the provider?
    How many connections are the wifi routers expected to handle?
    Shouldn’t exhibitors be allocated a completely separate network as part of their stand fees?

    I’d be interested in any data to be able to investigate the cost of providing a decent service at conferences.

  8. John Wilker’s avatar

    here here!

    We’ve had incredibly mixed results with conference wireless, form corporate venues with corporate IT, and no room for anything to dealing with outside vendors, including Swisscom. We had one venue (the one with Swisscom in Milan) try to charge us for upgrading the hotel infrastructure. uh yeah, no!

    Every event we organize we forewarn the venue, and it doesn’t always seem to do much good. Some have been able to ramp up, others not so much.

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