ONA16 Wi-Fi access a bit ‘dodgy’

For digital journalists,  a strong Internet connection is a must have. But historically, the crush of digital activity that marks the start of an ONA conference and its high-profile events has affected Wi-Fi access, sometimes bringing the system to its knees.

“There’s a lot of challenges. These are the most power hungry users, and there are a bunch of them in a very small area,” said Casey Collins, chief executive officer of C3-Wireless, which is handling Wi-Fi needs for ONA16.

On Thursday morning, as the conference got into full swing, the Wi-Fi reception was hit or miss for some attendees.

During the jammed-packed opening keynote speech, “Fireside Chat with Facebook’s Fidji Simo,” some reported issues with using the main ONA network to get on the web. Tiereny O’Dea, with USC’s Spatial Sciences Institute, said her cellphone was having connectivity issues during the keynote while  trying to get onto Facebook and Slack. But she wasn’t fazed by it.

“I’ve been going to SXSW for a dozen years,” she said, referring to an interactive media, film and music festival and conference. “Things like this, it’s always what happens.”

Shana Lynch, with Stanford University, said the connection was “ a little dodgy in spots,” and she had trouble reloading her Twitter feed to keep up with “all the great tweets coming up from journalists.”

“I don’t know how you get this many journalists in one place and have great enough Wi-Fi to service us all. So, good luck on that challenge,” she said.

This year C3-Wireless  is learning from the challenges it faced last year at ONA15 through improving traffic shape, according to Craig Mayo, C3-Wireless’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“If Twitter is something that ONA wants people to be doing, then we put Twitter at the top of the list, the priority list, in terms of things. If an iOS update is something they don’t want people to be doing, then that goes at the bottom of the list,” Mayo said.

Throughout the conference, Mayo said, C3 will be monitoring the conference’s web traffic to detect when the network is being overloaded to make adjustments.

C3 Wireless created separate wireless networks, a 5-gigahertz and 2.4-gigahertz one, and attendees were being told during registration to sign up for the faster 5-gigahertz network called ONA16_Brightspot, according to Mayo. The 2.4-gigahertz network is called ONA16_24. C3 got the idea to have two networks because some attendees at last year’s ONA could not access the 5-gigahertz network because they had older phones. 

“We drive everybody through registration to the 5-gigahertz network, and it’s the only one we publicize. So, anyone who has a 5-gigahertz device will see that network first on the list,” Mayo said.

C3 also brought a bigger router with twice the bandwidth than the company had at ONA last year, according to Collins. Access points, or Wi-Fi routers, are also mounted on walls throughout the Hyatt based on density and the hotel’s floor plans, Mayo said.

Having serious connectivity problems? Let the C3-Wireless staff know at their table on the third floor near the elevators.  And  email Lauren Booker or tweet @ONANewsroom so we can stay on top of it.