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You are Not Connected to the Internet: Seeking Stable WiFi at the Modern Conference

Urologists the world over have at last settled back into their rhythms after congregating en masse in San Diego, California for the American Urological Association Annual Meeting. While I hadn’t expected to escape balmy Ontario for crisp breezes in Southern California, the setting was an excellent one.

This year’s AUA meeting had all the hallmarks of years past – heaving throngs of AUA-branded-faux-leather-bagged urologists speed-walking between sessions in the enormous SD Convention Centre, bleary-eyed sufferers burning away their respective fogs with espresso in the cavernous Exhibit Hall, and plenary sessions packed to the gills to hear the latest and greatest. One pernicious tradition was unfortunately manifest again, however, in the form of unreliable wireless internet access in the conference hall and ancillary venues.

Modern conferences and conference centres (where (ironically) the latest technologies and scientific advances are presented) seem to have barricaded themselves from the digital world the modern conference-goer inhabits. This may at first seem inconsequential, as the sequestration and forced attention might keep the focus on the presented data. In truth, an entire communication meta-layer, that of the conversations, opinions and dissemination created by social media activity, are needlessly compromised.

As has been stated repeatedly in social media circles, this year’s annual meeting was a bonanza of twitter activity at the #aua13 hashtag, with over 4000 tweets sent from 468 users during the meeting proper. The recent European Association of Urology meeting in Milan was similarly well subscribed, with almost 1800 tweets from 251 users.

It seems universal at urology (and doubtless other disciplines’) meetings that some of the earliest twitter activity centers around the pain of spotty or absent wifi. To wit:

 – from #uro12 (AUA Atlanta):


 – from #eau13 (EAU Milan):


 – from #aua13 (AUA San Diego):

These are but a few of the dozens of agonized tweets based on weak, spotty or absent wifi, and for each there is doubtless a dozen, fifty, a hundred more people in the same building steaming with the same frustrations. International delegates, loathe to “roam” outside their home data plans, are perhaps the most handicapped. One imagines the conference centre tech team testing their seemingly robust signal in an empty room, devoid of the hundreds or thousands of devices queuing for bandwidth space once the meeting is in full swing. And let’s not forgive the conference-adjacent hotels that host dozens of ancillary meetings, such as the well-attended Society of Urologic Oncology meeting, each year in advance of the AUA proper. Typically there is a total absence of available wifi in these conference halls. In 2013, the mind boggles at this omission (on the part of organizers as well as the hotels).

Certainly the modern conference centre and the modern meeting must see beyond their own walls, and address the modern realities of communication. The reach of social media, and indeed the basic need of busy attendees to connect with their practices, lives and colleagues make this all the more imperative. Relative to all the other logistic feats that underpin a conference, building in extra bandwidth (with redundancy to avoid catastrophe) should be a simple infrastructure and expenditure issue, well within the means of the centre to predict and to deploy.

 A brief set of expectations for the modern conference centre’s wireless internet:

  1. Conference wifi must be available to all who wish to access it, when and where they wish to do so. Hotels are not exempt if they host parts of the meeting. Wifi is no longer a perk or a luxury.
  2. Login should be simple and able to be performed in the native settings of the users’ devices, rather than the agonizing experience of web- or browser-based login.
  3. Requiring repeated logins when re-entering rooms or buildings is excruciating and anathema to the speed of communication and discussion that define social media. One formal login per device per meeting.
  4. The ubiquity of mobile devices may require a building retrofit or construction of stations to facilitate the ability of delegates to charge these devices.

Until these conditions are met, associations, conferences and conference centres will be forced by their own inertia to stifle the full potential of the meetings they host. Here’s hoping that the volume of our discontent is heard by organizers, and suitable guarantees are established and met as conditions of hosting our meetings.

Mike Leveridge is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Urology and Oncology at Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada. @_theurologist_


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4 replies
  1. Amrith Rao
    Amrith Rao says:

    Dear Mike,

    Excellent Blog and your sentiments reflects many of us who feel frustrated at the wifi coverage of these meetings. In addition to the delegates, the press is also playing an important part in disseminating “Breaking News” about important findings and policy making to the general public. Following a few of the health reporters, it is evident that even they feel frustrated at the lack of good wifi in these BIG urological conferences.

    Along with Twitter, Facebook is also a popular social media network used by many of the delegates. Facebook is not only used for instant dissemination of the knowledge acquired at the meeting but also a powerful tool for social advertising for these meetings. Uploading photographs of the meetings and more importantly the social events (glass of Italian wine in Milan at EAU 2013) that occur in the evenings onto their Facebook profile is very popular for the Twitter naive techies. Of course, the experienced ones have their Facebook account sync’ed with their Twitter account!

    I hope the organisers do take notice of these glitches and provide confidence to all the attendees that they will be “connected” to the outside world in the future.

    Warm Regards,

    Amrith Rao

  2. Nick Brook
    Nick Brook says:

    Great blog, and I’d echo everything you have said. The SUO afternoon at AUA this year was packed with people and excellent content, but no wifi. Unable to resist, I got onto international roaming and have paid the price, very literally.

    An estimate of cost for IR is along these lines:
    If you were on a US mobile in London and looked at Google maps three times to find your way around Soho
    , it would cost you $20 (although this could be money well spent).

    It cost me about the same amount to post a few meaningless ramblings as it did to join the SUO for a year. Still, the latter was money well spent.

  3. Matthew Bultitude
    Matthew Bultitude says:

    Totally agree. I was able to use data roaming at the EAU as it was within Europe and EU are standardising the costs across Europe (It cost me £1.99 for the whole day of roaming). However in San Diego it would have cost me £6 per megabyte so didn’t dare turn it on!
    So of course I agree we need better fast reliable WIFI. However the EAU/ AUA make money from charging exhibitors for wireless access in the exhibition hall so need to factor that in. Also the better the wireless, the more people use it for high demand applications e.g. video downloads, updates, Skype calls etc. which then clogs it up. I suppose the question is would delegates accept a small daily charge for fast reliable WIFI. Maybe everyone could be offered 10MB free per day with their registration with a small cost for a further 100MB. How much would we be prepared to pay for access though? Either way, it needs resolving before the next major conferences to avoid the problems experienced by so many which is stifling the use of Social Media at conferences.

  4. Henry Woo
    Henry Woo says:

    Great to highlight this area of growing frustration. In 2013, a minimum standard at international grade convention centers should include the ability to provide adequate wifi. Conference organisers should include this as a check list item – they should not just take the word of convention center but should specifically request that the service be able to meet the needs of size of the audience. Let’s just hope that BAUS is adequately catered for in Manchester – admittedly, most of the attendees will be from the UK where 3G services can always be used.

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