Wireless Snafus at Wireless Show

Forget about the great wine and glittering waters, going to Cannes can be a wireless hell, according to European wireless editor Guy Kewney.

Last year, the worlds biggest mobile phone conference was, as usual, only marginally wireless-enabled.

Well, you can sort of understand it. Twenty-five thousand nerds, all with at least three phones each, in a tiny community that normally would expect to have a couple of hundred cell phones in the same area. Finding enough base stations is "a challenge."

It has been an industry-standard joke for as long as Ive known the 3GSM Congress in Cannes that you can get every phone in the world there, but you cant make a call.

And yet, people keep coming back here. Its not for the sun, sea, and sand. Its usually bitterly cold, even though its on the Mediterranean coast. It isnt for the food either. The town is stretched beyond its limits with a convention of 10,000. And as for the hotels, well, even the legendary Hannover Fair was never as bad as this. In Hannover, you bed down in a poor suburb on a bed made up in the room that is normally used by the kids in the family, and youre grateful. Otherwise, you book a hotel in Hamburg.

In Cannes, you hope against hope that there will be a spare room in Nice, or you do as I did, and end up in an auberge in a remote mountain village like Roquefort-les-Pins, beyond Valbonne, and spend a fortune on taxis.

What people come for is the networking. You meet everybody you know in the business, and you get your five minutes with each of them. "We must do lunch!" you chime together, knowing that youll do no such thing.... Well, thats what exhibitions and conferences are for. And as long as they deliver on that promise, to a certain extent, you can ignore everything else.

But there comes a point when the show organizers have to start wondering if theyve got everything they need, and last year, the most public-facing side of 3GSM went badly wrong. There were lots of promises made at the end of the 2003 show, mostly along the lines of, "Yes, we admit we didnt appreciate the importance of having wireless LAN coverage, well get it right next year."

And this year, in one sense, that promise was kept: France Telecom had a commercial hot spot available. At a cost of about $6 an hour or, if you wanted, at around $100 for a three-day subscription, it was seen by many delegates as a cheek. The word "exploitation" and another word, "arrogance," were used by several exhibitors.

For the show visitor, there were other ways of getting to the Internet. Several of the exhibitors, as well as having booths in the Palais des Expositions, also rented moorings in the marina next door, and parked huge luxury yachts at them, where the wine flowed and the Power-Point stupefied, and where Internet access--of a sort--was provided. But even that was problematical. Several exhibitors found that the best link they could get was a very unreliable ADSL connection. And of course, this was "extra" to the cost (the very substantial cost!) of having a booth.

All of which doesnt really matter, of course. What does matter to the organizers is that people come to the show, and one reason they come is for the publicity. Well, far be it for me to offer my own problems as a serious issue for the show organizers! But the scenes in the publicity center, where 600 working journalists showed up to cover the event, were unprecedented. There were raised voices, dropped links, French keyboards on PC terminals, and only 12 booths from which reporters could file stories. As one exasperated Reuters correspondent told the tech staff in the center: "The story of the show is this office, isnt it?"

If the exhibitors cant demonstrate their wireless technology, its a disaster. If nobody can get their announcements into the media, it becomes an embarrassing disaster.

It wouldnt matter, perhaps, if this was the first time, but it isnt. Last year, the situation was almost as bad. "Well have it all working next year, they said." This year, they said the same thing. I didnt believe them last year, so why should I believe them this year?

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