WiFi for social environments

People and WiFi

Social environments are quite diverse, including for example social clubs, nightclubs, restaurants, theatres, galleries, venues, hotels, public areas such as in retail developments, and public houses. Nonetheless they all share a key feature; they usually aim to host a high density of people. Water absorbs WiFi signals and people are about 60% water, so a high density of people is a problem for WiFi signals. Incidentally, drinks are largely water too, and they are often around in quantity in social environments. This WiFi signal absorbing property of water is one of the reasons why WiFi equipment is often attached to ceilings or high up on walls. It can travel further above people than it can through them. In addition, some specialist equipment has been designed to overcome two technical challenges of offering WiFi for high densities of people. It is essential to employ a wireless network specialist for deploying this kind of equipment.

Preferential access

A common requirement of social environments is to give preferential access to staff over visitors and perhaps paying guests over casual visitors. Naturally this makes the WiFi system more complex and so more expensive in both initial cost and ongoing costs. Nonetheless, it can be a reasonable expectation in for example an upmarket hotel.

Future opportunities

As large displays become cheaper and more mobile devices are enabled with technologies like WirelessHD, WiGig, WiDi, Miracast, and Voice over WLAN, new opportunities will emerge to entertain people. Proactive enterprises managing social environments can use them to differentiate their offering and remain relevant to a new generation that is completely comfortable with technology as a part of their social landscape.

Cost of WiFi

WiFi is often provided as a free service in social environments. In those cases low cost WiFi may be more important than many features. Regardless, it is always good to minimise costs. The cost of WiFi has two major elements, the initial cost, and ongoing costs.

Initial cost

WiFi equipment is available at a very broad range of prices, and price determines features. So the key to reducing the initial cost of a WiFi system is to determine the essential set of features required and then to select the equipment just capable of delivering them. Naturally fewer features also reduce configuration effort and costs. Given the very broad and rapidly changing range of WiFi equipment, current specialist knowledge is essential to selecting the most appropriate equipment to keep costs low.

Ongoing costs

Three elements make up ongoing costs: configuration updates, mitigating environmental interference, and remediating failures. Most systems have at least one password, and usually that needs changing periodically. Many systems also require new passwords to be issued to guests. This kind of low level configuration work is an ongoing cost for system owners. It can be more onerous for social environments because they have a high turnover of visitors. Consequently extra care is needed to reduce the ongoing cost of configuration updates for social environments. Many kinds of social environment are close to rooms or buildings that have their own distinct WiFi and so are more likely to suffer from interference that cannot be controlled. In these cases it is important to take extra care on the assessment of how likely this is to happen and to make design decisions accordingly. Working systems don’t often fail due to faulty equipment, so such failures do not contribute much to ongoing costs. However, damage can also cause failure. Special equipment is available for challenging environments that should help minimise the costs caused by damage.