Decent WiFi at conference centres is absolutely essential, but conference centre users continue to experience poor WiFi connectivity.
Often, your attending clients complain of slow speeds, or even worse – cannot connect at all!
What’s behind this? Looking through the below possibilities, it could be just one of these – but it’s usually a combination. Have a read of this list to help identify what might be hindering your conference centre wireless network – and what needs to be done to improve it.
The Pipe – Just Not Big Enough
Users at conferences will be both downloading and uploading data. They will be syncing email folders, updating blogs, vlogs, Twitter feeds, Instagram and Facebook, sending photos, video clips and reports. They may also be using Skype & various VOIP APPs.
One Skype video call alone can consume 1.5Mbps on both the download & upload for a single HD quality call. That increases dramatically for a group video.
All the above will seriously test your Internet pipe!
For decent conference centre wifi, you really need to consider how many users you can you cater for.
Say most users bring a minimum of two devices (most do – 1 smartphone,1 laptop/tablet)
Say there’s a bare minimum of 1Mb each user (they don’t all access simultaneously, hence why we’ve gone for this low figure). Then – well you can do the math. You need as large as internet connection as you can afford. Most attendees rate WiFi as one of the three most important requirements. Others include cost, accommodation, capacity, location, food & drink.
Management Of The “Pipe”:
Ok, so you don’t want to go in too heavy handed here, as rate limiting too low will come across the same as poor WiFi! But you still want to ensure 1-2 users aren’t hogging all the available bandwidth.
Applying some QoS (Quality of Service) to the traffic always helps, whether that be VOIP or just browsing over file transfers.
You may also want to filter certain websites based on your attendees – but you generally won’t go too far wrong blocking Adult/racist/terrorism categories.
Too Many Devices Connected To Each Access Point
How many is too many? Well that really does depend on the type of traffic wanting to traverse the Access Point.
With VOIP & Video & it could be as low 15-25 devices per radio. Notice I said radio here and not Access Point (AP). That’s because most APs have two radios – one 2.4GHz & one 5GHz radio.Well, we want as many devices as possible using the 5GHz band, not the highly congested 2.4GHz band. The 2.4GHz band has only 3 non-overlapping channels for most regions, whereas the 5GHz band has 15+ for most regions. This isn’t the only reason – but that’s another blog article entirely.
But generally, you wouldn’t want more than 50 devices connecting to one radio.
Again, this varies massively depending on what hardware you are using. Models vary in CPU/Memory/Ethernet-ports/number of antenna & WiFi standards supported (802.1a,b,g,n,ac,ax). Certain APs also allow you to turn off the 2.4GHz radio & enable two 5GHz radio per AP, which can really help in high density areas if deployed correctly.
Equally important is knowing what “area” any one AP covers (cell pattern/size). You don’t want somebody across the hall staying connecting to the first AP they came across – you want them connected to the intended AP for that area & this all too often isn’t the case.
There are various techniques that can help achieve this.
Directional antennas are a great way to achieve optimal coverage patterns in an open conference auditorium. Simple. Well, you would think so, but certainly not for your average WiFi installer it would seem. To be fair, some venues don’t want to ever see an AP or antenna which can sometimes make it more difficult. But in a large capacity venue you are never going to achieve the throughput you desire without these. Oh, we want to “see” the antennas or APs – as the 5GHz band thrives on open spaces & does not like to be enclosed (a sort of WiFi claustrophobia you could say).
Using directional APs/Antennas has many advantages – but one of the main ones is that a focused coverage pattern reduces Co-Channel Interference. It also enables tweaking of the Tx power & data rates – all increasing that all important throughput.
Poor Distribution/Back End System:
Switches – All men and Switches are not created equal. This is the part that is often overlooked & under-budgeted. A single switch may have 20 Access Points & various other devices connected. If those APs are 803.3at standard, then it may have to provide 20 x 30Watts to said APs.
Most 802.11ac wave 2 APs do require this power level. So, understand this & any required links between switches on their way to the firewall & the internet connection. Are these links 1Gb/10Gb, do you have redundant links should one fail? Have you designed a Hub & spoke setup, or have you daisy-chained the switches? Is the hub the Spanning tree root etc.
Firewall – is this capable of the throughput you require? Check the model’s spec when tested with multiprotocol’s & packet sizes.
DHCP Server – Have you configured the correct subnet sizes for each VLAN? Do you have enough IPs basically? What is the lease time & can the server handle the number of requests at peak times? Do you have redundancy or load balancing contingency’s?
WLAN controller (cloud or on premise) – ok, not real “back end”, but a good WiFi controller, if given the correct parameters and design, is invaluable. It is a must have. It can detect interference or AP failure & adjust to compensate in real time. Along with enabling load balancing and many other features.
So, in summary – if you design the conference centre WiFi network correctly from the off & install the best internet connection available you can seriously elevate yourself over the majority of conference centres.
Get in touch if you would like to talk to one of our experts.