What!? 500 Wi-Fi Connections Will Cause Interference?

If you haven’t heard or seen by now, Steve Jobs of Apple fame had quite an embarrassing moment demoing iPhone 4 features over Wi-Fi at the WWDC event this week. Anything Wi-Fi catches our attention here at MetaGeek, and an epic Wi-Fi fail involving one of the tech industry’s major players, well, how could we ignore that!?

From the video clip Jobs exclaimed at one point “There are 570 Wi-Fi base stations operating in this room…and several hundred of these are those MiFi things, by the way” Now, I’ve never been to the Moscone Center for an Apple event, but I’ve experienced a similarly over-crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum at the Interop show in Las Vegas–and Wi-Fi just. plain. doesn’t. work. So, although half of me winces with empathy for Mr. Jobs–since I too have had wireless fail me at inopportune times–the other half screams… “YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER!”

I’m probably preaching to the choir, writing this on the MetaGeek blog, but this reminds us all of a very fundamental and inescapable fact; the Wi-Fi bands are only so big, and only have room for a finite (really quite small) number of transmitters. When signals overlap and transmit on the same frequencies, neither signal will have optimum throughput capability because they will be interfering with each other. In Apple’s extreme case, the 500+ access point connections (and most certainly non-Wi-Fi gadgets like Bluetooth devices) brought in by the event attendees, rendered the 2.4 GHz band essentially unusable. I’m sure that Wi-Fi wasn’t working that well for anybody in the room, whether it was a blogger, journalist or member of the Apple crew. This, at it’s core, is why spectrum analyzers–like Wi-Spy–are essential in making Wi-Fi work as it should. Spectrum management is paramount in maintaining a solid, fast and reliable WLAN.

Was there a lesson learned? I’m sure that for Apple’s wireless network crew, there most certainly was. And, I would venture to say at the next demo event, Apple will have all sorts of free, high-speed 5 GHz networks set up for the blogger types to use in lieu of their own 2.4 GHz hotspots to help “spread out” spectrum usage. Also, it would not surprise me if there’s some sort of spectrum police keeping 2.4 GHz open for Mr. Job’s demo devices only…

So, Apple, if you’re listening, I know of just the tool to keep an eye on your wireless spectrum. Drop me a line at mark@metageek.net, I can hook you up… 🙂