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The Chaos of BYOW (Bring Your Own Wi-Fi)

It all started as an innocent joke:

scoble zoli wifi

Robert Scoble was sitting in the front row @ Apple’s WWDC conference while I was following the tweetstream from home.  Little did we know out joke would soon turn serious, as Steve Job’s keynote demo crashed when his shiny new iPhone 4 could not get a network connection.  Ars Technica offers detailed technical analysis of what may have happened, citing wi-fi experts who think the iPhone 4 may have a software glitch – but beyond that, they go deeply into analyzing the roots of network congestion at major gatherings.

It’s a great read, I have nothing to add on the technical side, just a little speculation on what brought this potential chaos about, and how to avoid it.

In short, we’re in a vicious circle.   The best “should-know-better” conferences have famously failed to provide sufficient wifi, including  Web 2.0, LeWeb, Gnomedex, Microsoft PDC, Google I/O… you name it.   We’re not talking about Birdwatchers’ Annual Convention or Road Builders Conferences – no, these are hi-tech events heavily attended by geeks, analysts, media, bloggers – the wifi_proliferationalways on, ever connected types, who will not tolerate being offline and will come up with their solution, as soon as the technology exist.

Thus, Bring Your Own Wifi was born – first the dedicated USB sticks with their $60 a month fees, then Mi-Fi, and now a flood of smartphones all providing their own hotspots.  Now all these BYOW devices wreak havoc and cause congestion.

Now, there are some cosmetic improvements we could all do, for example stop broadcasting our hotspot’s SSID. Not that it would reduce the behind-the-scenes congestion, but at least it would not clog the list of Wi-Fi for anyone else.  (Even this is easier said than done: some hotspots do not offer the option to shut broadcasting off, and even more sadly several devices refuse to connect to a Wi-Fi unless the SSID is listed).

We’re heading into a period of wireless chaos – it probably won’t be so bad on the road, in remote places, not even while using public transportation – but it will definitely get worse at places of expected high Mi-Fi / hotspot concentration.

We’ve come full circle. It all started by the lack of “centralized” connectivity, we all came up with our own ad-hoc solution and now we’re spoiling the game for each other.  I know I’d stop fiddling with my  EVO (or the gadget of the day) if there was rock-solid wi-fi at all conferences.  It’s time conference organizers step up to the plate.  If they don’t know how, I suggest they talk to Eric.

P.S. On a ligther note, some people already discovered the option of using the SSID for messaging. Is this the next marketing opportunity?

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