Pop-Up Wireless Networks: The Challenges

If you have not heard of the term ‘Pop-up wireless’ yet, you had better get used to it. It means the design and implementation of a wireless network for a large, one-off event attended by lots of people – whether that’s a sporting event, festival, high profile political or business event or something completely different.

Most of us are familiar with pop-up stores or shops – the trend for opening temporary retail spaces – and some of us may even have visited pop-up restaurants or hotels. The term is associated with short-term and short timescales, typically just days or weeks, and often for very large numbers of users at any one time.

When used in relation to temporary events requiring wireless, the deadlines are tighter and the timescales are shorter – and quite often the budgets are smaller. The other ingredient is the need to support thousands of simultaneous users. Add to this, the fact that there is little or no margin for error, and you get a sense of the challenges that you are faced with.

Take the G20 Summit, an event attended by leaders of the world’s top 20 economies, together with most of the world’s media. While you can expect upwards of a thousand journalists at any one time, it’s not just the number of people trying to access the network, but also what they’re doing with it.

Other high profile, global events, like the NATO and G8 summits, the F1 Grand Prix in Monaco and even the wedding of Prince Albert of Monaco and Princess Charlene, all have one thing in common – unprecedented levels of demand.

Imagine a restaurant where everyone is talking – it’s difficult to hear your own conversation sometimes. Then imagine a Media Centre, full of journalists on laptops and mobile devices, all trying to log on and use the network. You also have photographers sending hi-quality images to picture-desks, and cameramen sending video to broadcasters.

This places a tremendous load on the network infrastructure, but it is the concentration of so many people in a relatively small geographic area that really causes the problems. It is busy and noisy, but the possibility of network delays or even failure during peak times, as all available access points get crowded with traffic, is simply not an option. In these situations, the reliability, accessibility and speed of the Wi-Fi are absolutely critical in high-density environments.

Five ‘pop up wireless network’ challenges

  • Tight timescales – in pop-up wireless networking situations, you usually have just two to three days to configure and test a wireless network, and as a little as a day to ensure it works each time, every time. The key to success is good preparation and having the right technology for the job – and test, test and test again!
  • Network by numbers – the important factor in high-density environments is the need for quality assured connections in large wireless networks with thousands of simultaneous users. This requires experience, so pick an experienced team that has done it before and can deliver and implement the best Wi-Fi possible
  • Know your technology – with as many as 50 Access Points at any one time, this technology is the key to effective and efficient wireless networking. Ensuring quality and quantity allows many different users, devices and applications to run on the same network, including voice, data and video. Again chose technology from vendors with plenty of experience and knowledge of high-density environments
  • Partner up – always work with best possible partners in your markets, as you need to rely on them to configure and deliver the best user experience
  • Be secure – from passwords to secure guest access, you need to balance strong security with simple management, making it easy to manage the diverse range of devices accessing the network and ensuring the process is quick and easy for users.

With more and more temporary events ‘popping up’, bringing thousands of wireless users together simultaneously, it is going to be interesting to see how these networks withstand the pressure, and what lessons we can learn.

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Lionel Barreiro is a systems engineer for Meru Networks, which designs, develops and distributes virtualised wireless LAN solutions that provide the performance, reliability and predictability of a wired network with all the advantages of mobility. Prior to Meru, Lionel worked as a Sales Engineer for Cisco-Linksys and US Robotics.