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IETF attendees re-engineer their hotel's Wi-Fi network

Extreme network makeover at Paris hotel boosts performance

By , Network World
March 28, 2012 05:49 PM ET

Network World - What happens when a bunch of IETF super nerds show up in Paris for a major conference and discover their hotel's Wi-Fi network has imploded?

They give it an Extreme Wi-Fi Makeover.

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The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which sets a range of Internet standards, gathers for its 83rd meeting this week in Paris. The jam-packed agenda is filled with reports, presentations, and meetings of working groups, researchers, and birds-of-a-feather confabs. Among the topics: Multiparty Multimedia Session Control; Operational Security Capabilities for IP Network Infrastructure; and Worthwhile Extensible Internet Registration Data Service.

Despite it being springtime in Paris, such an agenda adds up to a lot of work for IETFers, all of whom also have their "day jobs" with a blue chip list of technology companies around the world. And that means that one thing that is even more important than a visit to Disneyland Paris (the No.2 most popular destination after Fontainebleau) is a hotel Wi-Fi network that works.

Flakey Wi-Fi, getting flakier

But as attendees began discovering on arrival last Sunday at the tony and towering Hotel Concorde Lafayette, close by the historic Champs-Elysees, the Wi-Fi was flakey and became flakier still as scores more attendees arrived and tried to connect.

Complaints began circulating quickly Sunday afternoon on the email list, although the spotty coverage, lost packets, and lack of a reliable or sometimes of any connection meant plenty of people didn't even see them. The wired network wasn't much better, apparently in part because in-room TVs shared the data connection.

"I've got what looks like a pretty good 802.11 connection, but am seeing about 30% packet loss. It's really not useable from my room as it is currently performing," noted attendee Ben Campbell.

"There are significant issues with this infrastructure, and it varies depending on where you are in the hotel and the load at the time," messaged Karen O'Donoghue, with the Internet Society. "I have seen similar performance numbers. For me it varied between 5% and 35% packet loss with latencies up to 5 or 6 seconds. That's obviously pretty painful."

One persistent complaint was that numerous outgoing Internet ports were inexplicably blocked, something which affected both wired and wireless connections. "The [Wi-Fi is] working well enough for me for skype, mail and browsing. One real issue (at least for me) is [that] outgoing non-standard TCP ports, which I need for my normal VPN, seem to be blocked," wrote Lou Berger, with LabN Consulting. "I am surprised by how many other ports the Concorde blocks," agreed Geoff Mulligan, chair of the IP for Small Objects (IPSO) Alliance.

One user complained that nearly all ports used by common instant messaging protocols are blocked, causing Cisco's Anton Ivanov to grouse, "This port blocking is so depressingly stupid.

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