When it comes to event internet, we always want the absolute best. You can actually scrap the event part of things. We just want the best internet always, period. However, Endless cares about making your events better at every turn, so let’s leave in it for now. As you’ve probably guessed by now, today’s Event Tech Podcast is serving all the freshest news on event internet. And more specifically, on the next generation of WiFi that’s coming our way – WiFi 6.
Whether you’re familiar with the term or not, our hosts Will Curran and Brandt Krueger are here to put all your questions to rest. And in order to tackle WiFi 6 and what it means for event internet, they welcome a very special guest. Rowell Dionicio is the owner of Packet6, and he specializes in all things wireless networking. Who better than Rowell and our tech-savvy hosts to get this week’s Event Tech Podcast going? Make sure your connection is good, and join us now!
WiFi 6: What Is It?
If you’re still wondering exactly what WiFi 6 is, Rowell is happy to explain: “So there’s a new protocol coming out, the protocol being like how wireless works. There’s a set of protocols that all make it work magically and you’d never see it, but the new one is called Wifi 6”, he says. “WiFi 6 is actually just a marketing term for the actual name. WiFi 6 is a lot easier to say and it’s really called 802.11ax and that is the latest protocol”.
The Change Driver Element
WiFi 6 has a lot of elements that set it apart. But when it comes to the one thing that’s going to drive more changes in our industry, Rowell speaks of the resource units: “That handles the way WiFi works and it’s very different with WiFi 6 compared to the previous wireless protocols that have already been released”, he explains.
The Nitty Gritty of Resource Units
So what makes the resource units so special? According to Rowell, the way WiFi works right now means that two transmissions can’t happen simultaneously. He takes a real-life example in order to make it easier: “Let’s take me and my wife speaking. We’re talking, I’m responding to her, and then my eight-year-old just all of a sudden jumps in and starts talking at the same time my wife was talking. I cannot understand both people at the same time. I have to say, “Hold on. You don’t talk. Let my wife speak first so I can understand”. That’s kind of how Wifi works”.
What resource units do is they allow multiple devices to do transmissions at the same time, by cutting “frequency into smaller chunks”. Rowell goes on to explain that “a device will tune to that much smaller frequency, which is allocated across larger chunk of frequency and that’s how the devices are able to speak at the same time. Whereas anything prior to WiFi 6, they had the whole frequency to themselves whenever they were transmitting or receiving”. Game-changing!
WiFi 6: The Caveats
Every new technology has its own limitations and conditions attached. Obviously, WiFi 6 isn’t going to be an exception, which is why the three of them quickly deep dive into this conversation.
Speaking The Same Language
“If you’re going to implement Wifi 6 APs or access points, is that you need a device that is also WiFi 6 capable”, explains Rowell. “Because if someone were to deploy at an event space all WiFi 6 APs because they think Wifi 6 is going to make everything better, but everyone is still using five-year-old phones and five-year-old laptops, those devices don’t understand WiFi 6. They only understand whatever protocols were installed at the time that that device came out”.
The Path Towards Adoption
On the same note, it’s important to understand how long it will take for devices that support WiFi 6 to become mainstream. “I think phones are more likely to come onboard faster because of the typical plans we have with our mobile provider”, says Rowell. Laptops, on the other hand other devices, “will take longer to get that adoption. Because if you look at event space and the people that are coming into this event space with their company provided laptops. Typically those companies don’t swap those out that quickly. It’s usually a three-year cycle or even a five-year cycle if you happen to work at that type of company”.
The Importance Of Being Cautious
When it comes to WiFi6, Rowell tells us to be somewhat careful: “There’s a lot of marketing out there and you just have to do some due diligence because a lot of people think that WiFi6 is going to solve all the wireless problems. It is not. There’s a lot of things that depend on making wireless work better. Wireless is just one of those protocols that’s very forgiving”.
It’s forgivable to a certain extent that laymen would blame WiFi for everything. The thing is, it’s not always the connection’s fault! “Sometimes in a large event space where you’re having thousands of people, you could have a server, which is then being hit by thousands of devices and you could basically overload that server to capacity. You either exhaust however many IP addresses you’ve assigned to the wireless network or the server is just getting hammered. It can’t keep up with all the requests. That’s one aspect of things. Then the other issues I’ve seen is not wireless related is DNS. Sometimes the DNS server could also get overloaded if you don’t build that to capacity of your event space”.
The Network Switches
“The switches, what provides power to the AP, the access point, and also is that data path for the clients to connect onto the wired network and into the internet. Sometimes your network switches could get congested as well”, is another issue described by Rowell. “Sometimes that overloads the network switches and the routers for example, and you have to be able to handle all that. There’s many more”.
The Network Engineer
“We highly recommend having a network engineer”, says Will. “I know I’ve talked about it probably somewhere before, but having someone onsite who is constantly monitoring your network”. If you’ve been following Endless, you know we’ve covered this before. Basically, someone like Rowell.
On the importance of this role, and what it entails, Rowell says that “prior to any deployment, prior to installing anything, prior to even getting into the configuration of these devices, you want to design for the capacity of what you’re expecting”. He continues, saying “wireless is very similar in how you have to plan for that capacity too. You have to design for it. Wireless signals are invisible, so we can’t really see how it’s propagating into the air. We have to design for the capacity of all those wireless devices coming into the show floor for example”.
“Then there’s also the consideration of the type of hardware I’m going to use with the access points. Access points usually come with internal radios. You don’t see those radios because they’re usually enclosed in the access point itself. But in event space, larger events spaces, I like to use external antennas to really shape how the signal is going to be propagated. So there’s a lot of things to consider”, he concludes.
Asking The Right Questions
When it comes to event planning, there are a few things you should be asking in order to know whether or not you’re getting what you need. “Some of those questions could be like what protocol do those access points provide? You want to know if they’re still using something really old, right? Because something really old means slower speeds. Basically, you want to use something like is it WiFi 5 or better, WiFi 6 in the future. But you typically want to stay within like WiFi 5 capabilities because that’s what devices are now. They’re WiFi 5. Then you want to ask, “Hey, what is the max capacity of this venue? Is the network going to buckle because of how many devices are going to come into the network?” Or you can ask them, “How many devices on the network can you support?” That kind of thing”.
“A lot of times these venues are at hotels and I find that hotels do not update their equipment to be on the latest and greatest. That’s usually a longer refresh cycle. Typically when they are refreshing the access points, the wireless network, they’re probably going refresh some of the backend infrastructure, which is the network switches as well”, adds Rowell on the topic of event planning and internet connection.
Events Are Not The Norm
It’s important to note that the internet we use at events isn’t the same as the one we install at an office. “Because when you go to an event space, you have a rush of people that come in once the event start. You have thousands of people that are coming in, they’re registering. A lot of those people are, if they’re registering, they’re congregated in the same space. So if you put one access point, that one access point can probably get really congested immediately because of how many people are trying to join”, explains Rowell.
“So with event space, you’re having to deal with just large amounts of devices entering the network in very specific areas, and also, not only does that hit wireless hard, but it also hits your infrastructure hard. Now you have to get equipment that can handle that large amount of capacity and data. Because in an enterprise, you could be transferring, I don’t know, a couple of hundred gigabytes per day. At a conference, you could be hitting terabytes. So that’s a large amount of traffic you’re trying to push in and out through the network. You have to have the equipment that can handle that”, he concludes.
When it comes to keeping things safe, never has the issue been as pressing as it is right now. Rowell shares some tips on how to ensure things stay safe: “We try to secure from people eavesdropping on our wireless networks and just try to be more secure in general with our wireless connectivity is the very first place people start off is with that pre-shared key, that password they put on there. The other step that a lot of enterprises use, you won’t see this being used a lot in event tech space or event space is 802.1X, which is certificate based. That allows devices and authentication servers to really identify whether they should trust that device connecting to the wireless network”.
That was quite the technical one! You already know that Event Tech Podcast brings you the greatest and latest news on all things technology. Hopefully, today’s episode on WiFi 6 shed some light on any questions you might have. Join us next week to talk more tech!