RealTime IT News

Wi-Fi a Contentious Tradeshow Beast

Reporter's Notebook: How do you bring two of the world's leading technology companies to their knees? Wi-Fi.

At a recent media day, Google provided Wi-Fi in a lecture hall for the 200 or so members of the media in attendance. At least there was supposed to be Wi-Fi. Technical glitches prevented that.

"We apologize. We certainly didn't do this on purpose," said Elliot Shrage, vice president of global communications at Google.

It took a few hours, but Google restored access after it rebooted some systems and essentially browned out Wi-Fi access to other parts of its campus to accommodate the press.

Gotta appreciate the effort.

Ironically, Google was recently awarded the contract (with EarthLink) to provide Wi-Fi access to the city of San Francisco.

And this is a company that knows a thing or two about wireless and which had meticulously attended to other details of the well-run event. No doubt the Wi-Fi people made sure access was working, but that's the nature of the wireless beast.

Now for Microsoft and the WinHec conference.

Last week, the software giant kicked off WinHec with a marathon three hours of consecutive keynote speeches that ran from 9 a.m. to noon.

Those who arrived early to get seated and check e-mail, or search for something more interesting to view during the many presentations, were out of luck.

Microsoft announced to the packed ballroom of thousands of attendees that it deliberately cut off Wi-Fi access to ensure there were no conflicts with wireless presentations it planned to make on stage.

"I can see this being a huge problem at a major tradeshow where you have thousands of people on the floor that want to run their own network," said Eric Griffith, managing editor of Wi-Fi Planet.

"But to think it would have an impact on the keynote, even with Wi-Fi demos, strikes me as really strange. Whoever set up the network should be able to segment it, and there are many different ways to do that."

Of course, the point of all these conferences is to provide attendees with useful information so it's not exactly stretching things to expect attendees to simply pay attention.

It's just interesting that some of the biggest proponents of Wi-Fi can't consistently deliver the goods.

Let's hope they figure it out soon because Wi-Fi access at conferences is now a baseline expectation.

Further, there's some indication Wi-Fi will become a more integral part of both audience and onstage proceedings.

Last year's AlwaysOn Innovation Summit is a case in point. Remote online viewers and a group of Wi-Fi-enabled viewers at the event, were encouraged to give live feedback to what the speakers were saying.

The conference organizers posted viewer comments on a big screen onstage, eliciting random chuckles, applause and hisses much to the bewilderment of those in the audience focused on what the speakers were saying.

The live feed was suspended for a time because some of the remarks were getting too personal, if not off-color.

Damn the luck, sometimes technology works when you least want it to.