CES: Please turn off your phones and your Wi-Fi

January 6, 2011

English literature teachers, please tell me if I’m wrong to call this ironic.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is all about technology, and pack journalists and tech experts all over the world say that wireless will be the next big boom. So why are various companies at this year’s CES begging and in some cases instructing people not to use their wireless devices or their Wi-Fi connections?

Here’s an email that my colleague Alexei Oreskovic received.

Alexei:

We have all heard of or experienced Wi-Fi challenges at high-profile events.

Please help our sponsors demonstrate their products. We ask you to turn off your phone before you enter Showstoppers tonight. If you can’t do that, please turn off Wi-Fi access on your smartphone and other mobile devices, including all mobile hotspot devices and anything else that acts as a mobile access point.

This is an increasing  industry-wide problem common to press conferences, meetings and other high-profile events that rely on Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi was designed for homes and other small spaces with more modest Internet demands. Wi-Fi was never intended for large halls and thousands of people packing an arsenal of laptops, smartphones, tablets and hotspots. Perhaps the entrepreneurs, innovators and journalists attending ShowStoppers tonight can improve this? Got an idea? Send it to me by email.

Thanks. We hope to provide the best-possible product introductions, demos and sneak previews for you tonight — and at future ShowStoppers events in Barcelona, Orlando, Berlin and elsewhere.

See you at ShowStoppers.

I also heard two reports from people who were there that said Verizon at a press conference today instructed journalists to turn off their phones. Everyone else, a Reuters reporter and a public relations buddy of mine told me, were allowed to keep theirs on.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s keynote speech last night apparently was a no cell-phone affair too, according to a reporter who was there.

Add to that the “sucky” bandwidth hogs at the NVIDIA CEO’s speech and you get a CES that carries the faint air of 2001 about it, not 2010. Most of us, as my editor Ken Li put it on Twitter yesterday, prefer technology that works — especially at a technology show.

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