Blog Wi-Fi Woes

Last week I submitted a story for rAVe [Publications] that detailed the trend of AV installers moving away from using Wi-Fi unless absolutely necessary. The main reason cited was that the sheer density of Wi-Fi routers in both residences and commercial operations in urban spaces has led to wireless traffic jam, seriously inhibiting the ability of any of those devices to communicate with each other.

The reality of the overcrowding problem is driven home here at CEDIA Expo. Sitting here in the Press Room overlooking the show floor at the Georgia World Congress Center my iPhone and laptop are picking up nearly two dozen Wi-Fi networks, and those are just the ones that are in range. The total number of networks set up at the GWCC is probably in the hundreds. At the risk of sounding overwrought, the result is a wireless Tower of Babel, where all these networks are shouting to be heard, and many of them can’t get through.

Doing booth tours yesterday, more than one vendor’s demo was sidelined by Wi-Fi issues. Even in the Press Room, there’s a definite “sweet spot” with better Wi-Fi reception than elsewhere in the room. On the show floor, it’s a crapshoot. I’ve yet to meet someone whose phone has been able to get either an open Wi-Fi channel or access the 3G network, and even straight mobile phone connectivity is sparse to nonexistent down there. The irony of high-tech companies being unable to make their Wi-Fi networks work seamlessly is pretty resounding.

I haven’t got any solid answers to my casual enquiries, but I suspect that the booths whose wireless networks are working better than others are, like the rescomm installations I mentioned in last week’s story are the bigger booths for manufacturers with huge budgets, and they’re using bigger, meaner enterprise level WiFi routers. The booths I visited yesterday that were having network troubles belonged to smaller vendors with, I assume, a smaller budget that would predicate less expensive network hardware. I know I’ve already used up my cliché quota with the Tower of Babel allusion, but setting up your CEDIA Expo booth’s wireless network with an off-the-shelf budget price router is exactly like bringing a knife to a gunfight: you’re going to lose.