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Ask Slashdot: 4G Networking Advice For Large Outdoor Festival? 140

New submitter xanadu113 writes "I help out with a large outdoor festival each year (Seattle Hempfest), and we use 4G hotspots on-site for our internet needs. Due to being at the bottom of the hill (in Myrtle Edwards park in downtown Seattle, WA right on the sound), we have problems with loss of signal, bandwidth switching (going between 4G/3G/2G, etc.). As wireless internet is our only option on site, we need to do something about improving the signals. What would be the best way to do a site survey of the 4G signals to select the best locations for hotspots, as well as the best carrier to use? We need potentially up to 10 devices per hotspot, and up to 10 hotspots or so. Also, would putting up a 4G repeater be a good option to solve this problem?"
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Ask Slashdot: 4G Networking Advice For Large Outdoor Festival?

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  • Why not WiFi (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quick Reply ( 688867 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @03:19PM (#44665267) Journal

    WiFi is going to be cheaper.

    • Right, this sounds like a job for something like open-mesh, a larger number of smaller device is going to be the only reasonable solution. Setting up 4G is presumably going to require regulatory approval and the people who have licenses to the spectrum are probably not going to be willing to share for such a brief event. Especially seeing as they're money comes from charging access to use it.
      • I agree. Why a mesh though? (and how do you set that up)

        • I would love to have a mesh setup, suggestions on software/hardware..?

            What you should have done from the start is call Verizon/AT&T/WhoEverYourBiggestLocalProvider is and have them resolve the issue. This is WAY beyond your level if you're asking slashdot.

            • by icebike ( 68054 )

              Furthermore, hempfest is over, last week.

              So little late to ask here unless they are planning for next year.

              But yeah, the Carriers can wheel in portable towers if you can convince them its worth their while for a short duration event, and give them enough time.

              Nobody is going to trust any silly mesh network or open wifi, especially at an event like hempfest which was basically hands off for Seattle police, but crawling with undercover DEA.

          • Open-mesh is a good place to start. They're self healing, have remote management and for those that need weather proofing, they have that as well.
            • by icebike ( 68054 )

              But nobody knows how to use it. Especially stoners.

              Come on, its a three day event! Its got to be mainstream, fast to set up and tear down.

          • Why worry about this now? The festival most likely won't be held at Myrtle Edwards park next year anyway. It has grown too big for that location. Hempfest 2013 []
        • I've never set one up this size. But, I've used open-mesh and the hardware is relatively nice and reliable. You can get a weatherproof one for about $75 and the software is relatively nice.

          But the reason for mesh is that there's a fixed number of devices that you can simultaneously connect to a WAP before it becomes unusable. You can have a maximum of 3 different channels in use in an area before you start to have them sharing at least some portion of their spectrum with each other. But, you can probably d

          • But, this does depend a bit upon the strength of the antenna, you can get up to 26db on some of them, which shouldn't require too many units. But, the OP is going to need power and Ethernet running to them. Or at least power.

            Or there is, you guessed it, power over ethernet :)

    • Excuse me, but a 4G Hotspot supplies Wi-fi to several devices. How many depends on the Hotspot used! Best bet is to walk around the area and do a survey to find out which carrier has the best connection in each part of the venue, and yes a repeater would probably help, that is if you can get a good signal to it in the first place!
    • WiFi is going to be cheaper.


      WiFi hardware is likely the best solution. It covers tablets,
      phones, iPod-touch, laptops effectively any portable device
      of the modern age. You can take a number of off the shelf
      home routers in the $100 range and wire them together with shallow
      trenched wire or modest vertical supports. With GigE hubs
      and GigE devices you can put a lot of bandwidth in the valley.

      Bandwidth to the valley is problematic. Cell-Towers do have a lot
      of bandwidth linking them to the world. That is the very hard part to addres

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @03:22PM (#44665281)

    If you are near sprint coverage you can get and rent a tower on a truck that may solve the 4g issue for the entire area. Then your hot spots could be anywhere. I don't know the cost on this though, just know they have it.

    • That's possible, but wouldn't you be stuck with some people being able to use it and others not? I'm not up on 4G, but a lot of handsets aren't going to support 4G from any carrier anyways.
      • That's why you make sure to only get 4G hotspots that work with it. Other people's phones don't matter, they can just use the wifi from the hotspots.

      • You're correct, only that carrier's customers (and supported MVNOs) would be able to use that tower on a truck.
      • by waddgodd ( 34934 )

        COWs are 2g/3g/4g towers, with antennas for each of the bands the cell provider supports. They're typically emergency deployments when a tower goes down or extra bandwidth is needed, say for a huge event like hempfest. OP is wrong, you shouldn't have to rent it, in fact, FWIU, you can't: Sprint/VZN/AT&T/T-Mob will do it all for you, and rather nastily tell you to quit bothering them if you persist in asking questions while they're doing it

  • even if you land up having %carrier% signs all around the place and %carrier% logo lighters and such you might land up having your carrier setup a portable tower or something Commercial Grade.

    what are the maths involved? (most important you need to cover which bits of ground??)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't you find a local ISP that would run some cables out to your festival, and then use Wifi repeaters to get the signal over the entire area? It seems like if you have a large festival and you're depending on 4g, then you're going to run into issues when every person with a smartphone tries to connect to twitter/facebook/instagram/whatever the hell people use now-a-days, and you need the internet signal the most, but it's just going to collapse due to the infrastructure strain.

  • COWs, lots of COWs (Score:5, Informative)

    by waddgodd ( 34934 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @03:27PM (#44665309) Homepage Journal

    Talk to the major cell providers, get some Celltowers On Wheels. They loves them some COW events, every COW is a dozen overage charges waiting to happen.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, COW's are the way to go. They are free, will be set up and operated, and powered, by the cellphone providers. Just tell them the numbers of people you expect to have and the dates and times.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I should also mention that if there is a tower in the area, and your event is getting it close to 75% utilization, it will set off alarms. They may already know about your event and have a COW planned. Talk to them and ask them to check their records for last year. The last thing they want is a tower hitting 100% and no one being able to use it.

    • Also check out WIDI. CLEAR is in the area. The local ISP's can provide a drop for a fee to feed a few WIFI hotspots. Cell capacity has limits for large festivals. Use alternatives when possible.

      FYI, check the local thrift shops for used CLEAR modems. Monthly service is possible. Combined with a 2nd hand wireless router, the modem and router can often be operated just fine on a 12 volt battery.

      • We do have generators on-site...
        • Definitely interesting imho. I'm a hobbyist, 1st time at festival this year, and would have defaulted to using hotspots as wifi backhaul but maybe that's not the way to go.

          then again I'm used to bringing in stuff from home to work (pc components mainly) but enterprise hardware is like a superset of home hardware. SAS, fibrechannel and the like.

        • Oh and microwave, wimax and COWs strike me as the most promising/practical so far. Even here in seattle it might be hard to get the tech companies to sponsor (though maybe 429 branded beers and the like might?)

        • by waddgodd ( 34934 )

          You prolly won't need them, COWs are self-contained, with their own generators and everything. They're really designed to get cell service restored ASAP when a tower goes down, so have no time to worry about power or other crud, just find a high point, park the truck and get it lit.

      • Clear is good for this kind of stuff, but they can't help you carry the cell phone call load.

        At Occupy Portland camp they were passing around CLEAR usb antennas and getting really good speeds....good enough for lots of video livestreaming.

        As I've seen above, calling your local provider to get temporary 3G towers is the way to might take some paperwork and bullshit but for Hempfest you need to tackle the problem at that scale.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This +1. I do COWs with major providers and this is the best solution. We test all sectors in the area to guarantee coverage. If there are issues, they will upgrade the COW for the following year.

    • I thought his question implied that they were going to use 4g hotspots to provide wifi. Not to extend 4g coverage but to use it as a backhaul for wifi. Why would he need the hotspots to move? The geography is fixed. Coverage sucked near the shore but was fine around the main stage. I thought he qas asking if there's a better way to position the hotspots to provide maximum wifi coverage...

  • T-Mobile's based out of Belleview; talking to them may prove advantageous.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    With so many people at the festival, they will easily eat up the cellular connection with their cell phones, so you really shouldn't rely on 4g or any cellular broadband source.
    I would recommend finding a wireless carrier that can send you internet via 5.8ghz or 3.65ghz (wimax). Once you have a source at the fest, you would want to redistribute it yourself to various locations for your hotspots at different venues by using an Access Point at each location. You should use a 5.8ghz bridge to redistribute i

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BitZtream ( 692029 )

      y that owns a house or business with a good cable internet connection and redistribute down to the fest yourself using 5.8ghz bridging

      Which would be against the ToS of pretty much every ISP on the planet. Thats a stupid suggestion, and a good way to get yourself in trouble.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For the MS-150 from Houston to Austin, one of the wireless carriers set up a mobile 4G tower for the overnight stay at the half way point.

    Have you checked with your local carriers?

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @03:38PM (#44665363)
    2013 Schedule [] (August 16-August 18)
    • So after the 2013 Hempfest, they organizers said "well what were some of our problems, and how do we solve them for NEXT year?"
  • by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @03:42PM (#44665381)

    The problem with most terminal equipment is not so much location, but the quality of the antenna used. Most phones these days have absolutely pitiful antennas which is alleviated somewhat by the use of a flat copper helix stuck on the back of the battery. Or, in the case of such phones as the iPhone, which do not come with removable covers never mind removable batteries, stuck to the back of the case.

  • For survey purposes i would suggest finding an old nokia (3310 or similar) or some other phone that can have monitor mode enabled (or service menu). It is best if you would be able to slurp the data out of the phone via a cable but spot checks every 5-10 m would be OK (repeat at a minimum of 3 times).

    Probably there is a better way but this is the cheapest and fastest way. For more ideas i'd suggest contacting OpenBTS/OpenBSC (as projects for ideas) or Harawd Welte / Dieter Spaar (as persons).

    I would not sug

  • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @03:49PM (#44665417)

    Just ask the NSA for assistance; I'm sure they'd be more than happy to provide all the IT assistance you could possibly need. :)

  • It sounds like OP has some kind of 4G hotspot, as in, it connects to a 4G network and shares that connection out via wifi. So...I would follow the suggestion of someone up there a couple of posts - Find good coverage spots and spread out the access via repeaters of some kind.
  • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @04:07PM (#44665509)
    Why would a bunch of stoners need high speed internet? I can imagine maybe one user typing 'hey' and another user typing 'dude' a half hour later, but if there is any more activity than that, then the fest is a dud...
    • At some point you need to get out of your mother's basement and stop believing what you "learned" in D.A.R.E.
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      This is really how the world has degraded into mediocrity. There was a time when one went to festival to hang with your friends, jam to some tunes, and, yes, maybe do some things you shouldn't. Now one has to have 4G. I blame the helicopter parents who create dependent children who cannot entertain themselves for a few hours with checking in with their mommy.
      • You still hang with your friends. You just have much cooler stuff to share than ripped up magazines or broken-spined books.

      • With over 1000 volunteers who need to check in for insurance and permit reasons, doing that on paper would create even longer lines. The 4G isn't used for YouTube, FaceBook, Reddit, etc. only for check-in...
  • This event is an excellent candidate for a temporary cellular deployment, engineered and operated by a carrier. Typically, they will not charge for the service because of the extra call revenue and to avoid bad publicity from poor coverage or capacity. Unfortunately, you would need to engage both Verizon and AT&T to provide service for their own customers.

    I recommend not deploying a cellular repeater in this case because there is likely insufficient isolation between the surrounding macro network and yo

  • Wifi is great to first get your internet connection. Simplest if you have an accomplice in a near-by building with line of sight, preferably with a fiber, non crippled internet access on that side. Set a wireless link between your festival and the building with something like a pair of Ubiquity Nanostation. As it's wifi 5.5GHz, it's unlicensed and has a broad, not much used spectrum. Doesn't go through walls as easily as 2.4GHz, too. You have to respect some emission power limit of course but you get a stab

    • As this isn't open to the general public, we will have less need for caching since the internal systems are mostly text based web pages...

      The hotspots will be password protected...
      • Yeah but the first part sounds kinda interesting. Anyone who works at any of those tech companies next to the park could probably plug in to their wired network. That'd be a trunk line onto the public internet. Getting that out of the building ... maybe run cat5 from the closest port near the roof then wifi it over to a main hotspot that relays to the rest.

        Or wifi it through the windows to the nearest park hotspot.

        They'd take a bump to their internet traffic but if it is mostly over a weekend and they're no

    • (replying to myself)

      Seattle being a major town with a known tech history, there's indeed a community wireless ISP, called "Seattle Wireless" and I'm sure they can be helpful. Or even have some people there quite interested

  • by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @04:45PM (#44665697) Journal

    I've used this method to find celltowers closest to a house in a forest. On your cellphone, turn off GPS and google location services, and go into airplane mode.

    Then turn off airplane mode and as soon as it connects try to get a fix on your position in google maps using only celltower information. Basically, it'll place you a certain distance within range of a celltower. The center of the circle is where the tower is. If you can get LOS on that tower, that will help your signal a lot. Sometimes they're even marked in google maps. You can move around the perimeter, and it may switch to a different cell indicating another tower you can use. Not all carriers use the same celltowers, either, so this has to be the same provider you have for your hotspots.

    If you really want to play around to increase signal, try mounting an old satellite dish up high aiming directly at the celltower, and place the hotspot at the focal point.

    A 4G repeater won't help since you'd have to place it in LOS to the tower anyway, so you might as well just place your hotspot and a wifi repeater there with a directional antenna. Wifi equipment should be cheaper and faster, too, for the infrastructure.

  • by xanadu113 ( 657977 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @05:25PM (#44665877) Homepage
    It's funny how the "non potheads" can't think outside the box enough to realize this is for the 2014 Hempfest, not the 2013 one which ended last weekend on the 18th... ;)
  • I live just a few blocks from the park (and staffed a table on Sunday of the event), the 4G problems are not due to coverage but due to network congestion. You can easily get 10-15 Mbps via both Clear and Verizon 4G when there aren't 50k people there. You really should be looking at point to point microwave for your backhall. I'm sure Spectrum Networks can provide you with a 1Gbps link on at least the south half of the park. Digital Fortress has a datacenter in the big black round building that overlooks the park. I suspect they could get you roof access and a 1Gbps feed too. Most of the buildings along the park belong to tech companies (F5 networks, Big Fish Games). If you can talk one of them into sponsoring you, they could likely get you bandwidth on their roofs too. Bandwidth isn't a problem, you just need to bring your own. Obviously that requires money and forward planning.
  • by ancientt ( 569920 ) <> on Saturday August 24, 2013 @05:34PM (#44665907) Homepage Journal

    The person asking the question thinks the solution to needing to provide Wifi Hotspots is to use cellular based devices and maybe try to find a way to get better 4G coverage.

    You're trying to solve the wrong problem. Using 4G to provide wifi has several drawbacks, first is cost. Second, you can't get the bandwidth you really need, and third, you have to compete with every device there trying to connect to thier cellular provider. Provide hotspots with Wifi Routers getting their connections from a wired source instead. Ideally, you'd run wires to your wifi access points but if you can't do that very well in some places, use wifi repeaters.

    If putting wires to the places you need access points is really a serious problem that you can't solve with wifi repeaters, then use microwave. It's not too expensive to set up and it can give you a no-wires high bandwidth internet connection for long distances.

    Since the wrong question was asked, it is hard to provide the right answer, but here are some tips:

    • by mrbene ( 1380531 )
      +1 on this for sure.

      The OP hasn't been super clear with regards to their requirements - is the goal to provide:

      1. - Internet to all festival goers?
      2. - Internet to festival organizers only?

      If it's the former, then the question is whether the OP wants to provide this as part of the ticket price, then consider whether to bring in a 3rd party either as a sponsorship or as a business. If it's the latter, then the question is whether the festival organizers actually need the internet, or just a bunch of organ

      • It's a free festival. Internet access was kind of all or nothing. At the main stage speed test over verizon 4g clocked in well north of 5mbps. Over near the shore, on the rocks and the like I got bupkus. No signal at all.

        Not really a big deal to walk a few feet to get coverage but this is seattle, we tech hard so going the extra mile to have a weed festival with great coverage is important-ish. :)

      • Being as the event is free to attend, including the cost of wifi into the ticket price wouldn't work here. It is for the festival organizers, not the public...

        I should also point out that the 4G this year has been much better than previous years, but still leaves much to be desired.
      • It seemed obvious to me that the need was for organizers. Do the math given the numbers mentioned, and figure out which would be feasible to dictate a carrier for: a) a small set of people working together or b) the general public. As for having AT&T provide WiFi, the OP presumably wants the connectivity to actually be usable.
  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @08:38PM (#44666649)

    Repeaters are for boosting individual signals. They often promise extended range and coverage, but do nothing for added capacity. If you're in a bit of a low coverage area chances are your repeater will lock onto a handful of towers. Suddenly presenting the network infrastructure with 100 new devices at one node will result in very poor quality of service. Only a handful of devices will work at any given time and they will likely chop and change where one device suddenly has massive bandwidth and a second later no signal. We just did something similar at a local event out west. We had roughly 100 people there, and one of them was a network engineer at one of our telcos. Basically he put it up for emergency use only. If more than 5 people tried to use it at a time the system went splat and would take a while to come good again.

    What you need is proper infrastructure with portable cell towers backhauling the data to the network, not repeaters which suddenly present a load onto a cell tower which was never in their design case. I would suggest contact the telcos and see if they can provide something like this. For a big enough event and some free advertising you may be in luck.

  • No idea about open mesh or any of that crap, but I can tell you that on those western facing slopes Verizon has the best coverage. Yes, they are ass-hats to deal with, but their coverage is pretty good if you go that route.
  • First, why not engage the community like Seattle Wireless to see if they're willing to setup a mesh in the park. They're a non-profit, your a non-profit...

    I don't think your end goal was to provide coverage for everyone. If you have a bunch of people watching netflix while at the park, then why have live entertainment? Having a bunch of people all wired in would harsh my buzz instead of it being a social event.

    Understandably for concessions, you'll need wifi or connectivity of somekind to keep capitalis
  • Look at Burning Man (Score:5, Informative)

    by nick0909 ( 721613 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:51PM (#44667195)
    Going on right now (well, starting soon) is the greatest wild party in the middle of nowhere, 2 hours from the closes cell signal, and they have internet access. Ask some of the Burning Man guys to help with such a setup. They don't use 4G, but they have T1s in nearby towns and they microwave it out to the festival site. It works very well, even in the worst dust storms, and is not nearly as reliant on the whims of cellular carriers.
    • by Barryke ( 772876 )

      I'd upvote if i could. This is the correct answer.

      Beam/fiber from a landline T1 connection. Talk to a ISP, (in the Netherlands) they happily jump in as sponsor.

      Then use professional grade WiFi (e.g. bug ugly gray Cisco boxes with three thick antenna's) to cover the main event areas. Dont mess with consumer grade WiFi unless you are sure you only have 10 csuch aslients and no wifi noise.

      • I'd upvote if i could. This is the correct answer.


        Then use professional grade WiFi (e.g. bug ugly gray Cisco boxes with three thick antenna's) to cover the main event areas. Dont mess with consumer grade WiFi unless you are sure you only have 10 csuch aslients and no wifi noise.

        Uh, I see those Cisco boxes fall down with only a few hundred users. A bunch of boxes running batman-adv on OpenWRT boxes is likely going to scale better, for less money (though of course not the craptacular default firmware)

  • May have grabbed the wrong end of the proverbial stick here, and I'm by no means experienced in the mobile telecomms field... But isn't the OP intending to set up wifi hotspots which connect to the internet via 4G? That's how I interpreted it anyway, the assumption being that it would be impractical to have Ethernet running everywhere.
  • Have you thought about using a range booster or cantenna? Hackaday has several builds and might provide better signal over greater distances. []

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