Dec 292010
A diagram showing a possible WI-FI network.
Image via Wikipedia

Internet entrepreneurs climb on stage at technology conferences and praise a world in which everyone is perpetually connected to the Web.

But down in the audience, where people are busy typing and transmitting this wisdom, getting a Wi-Fi connection is often downright impossible.

“I’ve been to 50 events where the organizer gets on stage and says, ‘It will work,’ ” said Jason Calacanis, chief executive of Mahalo, a Web search company. “It never does.”

Last month in San Francisco at the Web 2.0 Summit, where about 1,000 people heard such luminaries as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook,Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, andEric E. Schmidt of Google talk about the digital future, the Wi-Fi slowed or stalled at times.

Earlier this year, Steven P. JobsApple’s chief executive, had to ask the audience at his company’s developer conference to turn off their laptops and phones after his introduction of the iPhone 4 was derailed because of an overloaded Wi-Fi network.

And few of Silicon Valley’s technorati seem willing to forget one of the biggest Wi-Fi breakdowns, on the opening day of a conference in 2008 co-hosted by the technology blog TechCrunch. It left much of the audience steaming over the lack of Internet access. The next morning, the organizers — who included Mr. Calacanis — clambered onto the stage to apologize and announce that they had fired the company that installed the Wi-Fi.

Technology conferences are like revival meetings for entrepreneurs, deal makers and the digitally obsessed. Attendees compulsively blog, e-mail, text and send photos and video from their seats.

Some go so far as to watch a webcast of the event on their laptops rather than look up at the real thing right in front of them. Nearly all conferences make free Wi-Fi available to keep the crowd feeling connected and productive.

The problem is that Wi-Fi was never intended for large halls and thousands of people, many of them bristling with an arsenal of laptops, iPhones and iPads. Mr. Calacanis went to the extreme at the Web 2.0 Summit by bringing six devices to get online — a laptop, two smartphones and three wireless routers.

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