During the recent mobile insights conference in Phoenix, I participated in an ad hoc WLAN, and the experience forcefully drove home the utility and advantages of a wireless LAN. Symbol Technologies set up three of its 802.11b-based WLAN access points in the main conference room and handed out Symbol wireless PC Cards to more than 150 conference attendees to use in notebooks during the conference.
Symbols access points were connected to an Ethernet LAN and a T-1 line that provided high-speed access to the Internet. Employing Symbols Windows drivers, PC notebook users had little trouble connecting to the WLAN. My Macintosh PowerBook, with its built-in 802.11b wireless card, connected to the wireless network seamlessly.
In no time, attendees were able to access the Mobile Insights intranet and surf the Web. The MI intranet site contained the conference agenda, along with other conference information and a quick survey form. In addition, we were able to send questions to session moderators in real time.
This WLAN experiment presented several lessons that could be translated to a corporate setting. The first lesson is that three access points accommodated 150 users. At no time during the sessions did we lose access to the network due to high traffic. (Multimedia use would require more access points.)
The second lesson is that a WLAN allowed MI to easily provide network and Internet access to a large number of users very quickly. Setting up 150 network ports is not a trivial task, and it would be prohibitively expensive to do the same thing with a wired network. By employing a user name and password scheme on the intranet server, each attendee could have his or her own account, and MI staff could track each attendees network usage.
The third and perhaps most important lesson is that a WLAN can provide interactivity to large groups in an orderly way that would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide with a wired network. In addition, by having meeting members submit their questions via an intranet, a Q-and-A session can move along quickly.
Next time you have a gathering at your company, think about these lessons and plan your own WLAN experiment. The time and cost to set up an ad hoc WLAN will pay handsome dividends.