Con Solutions: Event Internet Connectivity

[note: A list of our actual tech set up comes at the end of this article]

One of our major challenges with the 2010 Intervention event was figuring out how to have affordable Internet connectivity for our staff, guests, panel rooms, Artist Alley participants, and attendees. Anyone who’s ever tried to rent internet connectivity directly from a hotel or convention center can tell you–it ain’t cheap. For three days of connectivity, with only up to 100 connections, it can be upwards of $1250–not a small sum, and it doesn’t even really cover the number of connections needed or is simple to use (each connection requires a username and password).

So we were left in a bit of a spot since our budget wasn’t unlimited.

Our first thought was to investigate using 3g/4g modems running off of cell phone networks. All of the major cell companies have them–but they almost all cost a decent amount per modem, and they almost all require a 2 year contract of service. So the costs over time were equal to or greater than the one time hotel cost.

We then happened to discover one quirk of the area our hotel was located in: It had 4g service based on the Clear network. This network is actually a joint project with Sprint–but isn’t directly based on cell phone technology. It’s actually has more in common with your standard wi-fi network you have in your laptop–but designed to work over a much greater range.

Well, we figured out that if you buy their “home” base station modems, then hook those up to a regular wi-fi router, you can cover the entire hotel with 3 set ups–and it was a fraction of the cost of either of the other solutions. You also own the hardware, so your future costs are much lower. Clear allows you to buy their hardware on a no-contract basis if you want, which really was the determiner for this solution.

Now, this isn’t to say we didn’t have some issues. It turns out Clear is still working on their system–so for 3 weeks in a row we tested out their modems at the hotel, and each week they needed to be placed differently and gave us different throughput and connectivity. The worst thing was the quality generally dropped a bit each week–and at the actual event we had to go to some extreme contortions to get the things to give us an acceptable signal for 2 of the set ups.

But ultimately they worked well enough to be successful. We were able to get a large number of people connected wirelessly to each router, and the routers we primarily used could even separate into multiple wireless networks (a public one and a private one).

Would I suggest this set up for other cons? Yes. But you REALLY need to do advance testing to make sure the modems will work at your location. First consult their map on their site to see if your area has service (and it’s expanding a lot recently). The good thing is they do have a 14 day trial period, so you can send the modem back for a refund if they don’t really work for your location even if it says it should. You should be aware though that the placement for the modem is touchy and you need to try it out all over the place to get the best signal.

So here’s what we used:
3 Clear Series M modems
2 Netgear n600 routers
1 linksys WRT54G router

3 Responses to “Con Solutions: Event Internet Connectivity”

  1. While this will not be everyones cup of tea, I’ve started using internet via my jail broken iPhone when I’m at cons and hotels in general. The awesome tethering app that’s available has made life a lot easier for me. :)

    • harknell says:

      My-Wi (which is the best internet sharing program for the iPhone in my opinion) works really well. It’s good for an individual at a con. In our case we needed to scale well beyond that level–but that does really give a good argument on why jailbreaking for the iOS platform is a big benefit to most users.

      (side note: The Palm Pre has this function built into it already)

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