Being a Mobile Network Operator For a Day

When you go to a lot of meetings at other people’s locations you learn over time to take two indispensable things with you to stay connected: First, a multiple socket outlet with a long extension cable as there are usually only two power sockets for 20 people. This has the nice side effect that other people are usually more than grateful for your seemingly bright idea (see picture on the left). Second, I bring my own Internet access as either there is no Wifi or Ethernet cable available or a firewall blocks my IPsec connection back to the home network.

Last week, I hosted an internal meeting at one of our locations for a number of employees coming to town from all over the world. Usually, our Wifi network works quite well except, of course, when you need it. So the local Wifi went on strike as soon as our two day meeting started. But we are an R&D lab, so we have Wifi Access Points around that can take over in times of crisis. So I became a mobile network operator for a day.

The Linksys WRT-54 Access Point with OpenWRT has a nice graphical network traffic analysis tool which I used throughout the meetings to see how much the network was used. Most of the time there were around 15 people connected to the access point, mostly for keeping up to date with their eMail and browsing the web a bit (the split attention syndrome). Even in the breaks when usage increased I was quite surprised that the usage of the network rarely went beyond an average of 10-20%. In other words, most of the time 80-90% of the capacity was not used.

I would have guessed before the experiment that utilization would be much higher as people often report from conferences that Wifi access at some point comes to a standstill. Looks like my conference was too small and my visitors less demanding despite some YouTube videos being streamed during the breaks 🙂

On the left are some graphics which show how the network was used during high times. The time recorded on the graph is around 4 minutes.