Even technology conferences struggle with dropped calls and spotty Internet service

Stephen Woo, president of Device Solutions Business for Samsung Electronics, watches a video presentation during a keynote address at the 2013 International CES on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Samsung introduced a new faster processor and prototype devices with flexible OLED screens.

Samsung Keynote at 2013 International CES

Former President Bill Clinton speaks during a Samsung keynote address at the 2013 International CES on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »

2013 International CES Opens in Las Vegas

Raman Chari prepares a display of convertible Ultrabooks at the Intel booth prior to the opening of the 2013 International CES in the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. STEVE MARCUS Launch slideshow »

Convention attendees chuckled as Samsung officials waited for a video game to load on a display. They sat patiently as Internet connections hiccuped.

During this week's International CES, people have found themselves with spotty Internet service, long download times and dropped calls.

While glitches in connectivity may seem ironic at one of the world's largest technology gatherings, they drew no more than a few shrugs from the people accustomed to such events.

"Tech conferences are the worst for Wi-Fi, because everyone is using multiple devices," said Jeff Cutler, a freelance journalist from Boston, covering his eighth CES. "It's something you expect, and everyone kind of laughs about it."

It happens everywhere. Cutler remembers attending a South by Southwest conference in 2009 during which AT&T had to drive in trucks to expand bandwidth around Austin, Texas.

CES organizers take their connectivity very seriously and say they expand services every year to try to serve the more than 150,000 people who attend the conference.

"We keep trying to add more, but it never seems to be enough," said Tara Dunion, senior director of event communications for the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs the show. "Actually this year, from what I'm hearing, people have been pretty pleased with the connectivity."

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority arranged for Wi-Fi in public areas of the convention center this year. Extra power and connectivity was available for sale to speakers and exhibitors for demonstrations and presentations.

Public areas provide only basic access for checking email or web surfing. If someone tries to stream video or audio, it diminishes capacity for other users.

At CES, attendees use smartphones, laptops, tablets and even smart watches.

“Not only are exhibitors needing fast Internet services at CES, but the attendees are tech-savvy and most carry at least one, if not multiple, Wi-Fi-enabled devices," said Mark Haley, president of Smart City Networks, the Las Vegas Convention Center's technology provider. "As a result, Smart City nearly quadrupled the bandwidth available to support the increased demand for Internet connectivity at CES and tripled its on-site staff.”

Most of the added staff came from other Smart City offices around the United States and included network engineers, customer service representatives and managers.

The Las Vegas company also made the following upgrades to accommodate CES:

▪ Added 3.7 gigabits of bandwidth to handle increased demand for Internet.

▪ Developed custom routing programming to ensure traffic took the most efficient route to the web.

▪ Added almost 2,000 patch cables on the showroom floor to provide additional wired Internet connectivity for exhibitors.

▪ Installed 560 individual Internet connections to booths and meeting rooms for shared and dedicated Internet services.

▪ Added more than 5,100 connections, including cable TV, telephone, Internet, custom network and media support.

▪ Provided Wi-Fi offload bandwidth for network provider AT&T to supplement their services in buildings.

Smart City declined to say what the upgrades cost.

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  1. At first, after reading the headline, my first thought was "They must have AT&T".