SxSW Wireless Meltdown

There’s nothing like a hoarde of iPhone users to kill access to to AT&T’s wireless network: my AT&T Blackberry Bold was nearly unusable at eComm because of the large number of iPhones in the room, and the situation at SxSW is roughly the same. The silver lining in Austin this week is that the show’s Wi-Fi network is working well. Part of the trick is the deployment of Cisco 1252 Access Points with 5 GHz support. Unlike the Bold, iPhones can’t operate on 5 GHz channels, so all that spectrum is free for the taking by Bolds and laptops that can operate on it. In a concession to Macbook users who aren’t allowed to select a Wi-Fi band, the show net had different ESSID’s for 2.4 and 5 GHz operation. It also has a load of reasonable restrictions:

Acceptable Use Policy

The Wireless network at the Convention Center is designed for blogging, e-mail, surfing and other general low bandwidth applications. It is not intended for streaming of any sort.

a) Peer-to-peer traffic such as bittorrent and the like, use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth and are unfair to other attendees. Please refrain from non-conference related peer-to-peer activities to minimize this effect.

b) Please be considerate and share the bandwidth with your fellow attendees. Downloading all of the videos from a video sharing service for example, is being a hog.

c) Please do not actively scan the network. Many of the tools for scanning an address range are too efficient at using as much bandwidth as possible, this will likely be noticed.

Despite this AUP, I can confidently predict that speakers will demand unrestricted use of wireless spectrum.

Slight disconnect, eh?

UPDATE: Om of GigaOm reports that AT&T is addressing the problems in Austin by switching on the 850 MHz band in their downtown Austin towers:

AT&T’s network choked and suddenly everyone was up in arms. And then Ma Bell got in touch with Stacey, who reported that AT&T was boosting its network capacity.

How did they do this? By switching on 850 MHz band on eight cell towers to blanket the downtown Austin area. This was in addition to the existing capacity on the 900 MHz band. AT&T is going to make the same arrangements in San Francisco and New York by end of 2009, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told Engadget.

Not all of your AT&T devices support the 850 MHz band, but the Bold does. The larger takeaway, however, is that all wireless systems become victim to their own success. The more people use them, the worse they get. C’est la vie.

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2 thoughts on “SxSW Wireless Meltdown”

  1. >>In a concession to Macbook users who aren’t allowed to select a Wi-Fi band, the show net had different ESSID’s for 2.4 and 5 GHz operation

    Do Macbooks automatically select the 2.4 band first? A simple connection algorithm that scans from channel 1 up could cause this issue. I saw this addressed in Windows WiFi adapters (to prefer 5Ghz, even with somewhat lower signal quality (assuming less contention)) many years ago…

  2. Apparently Macbooks don’t allow the user to control the band they use, according to feedback from eComm. On a Windows machine with 802.11abg, you can disable 2.4 Gz and have it run 5 GHz only, but that seems to be off the table for the Mac dudes. That’s what they tell me, at any rate.

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