Aruba Offers Free Wi-Fi to Conference Organizers

By Eric Griffith

August 05, 2003

Planning a multiple day event with a few hundred attendees who are likely to want wireless Internet access? Perhaps you should talk to Aruba Networks.

Aruba Wireless Networks, one of the many start-ups to jump into the nascent wireless LAN switch market over the last few months, has got a deal for you. If you run or organize any kind of major trade shows, forums, or conferences that is.

Under a new program called "Wi-Fi It," the company is offering its equipment and services for administering a Wi-Fi network to event organizers, anywhere in the world. Aruba will take care of the network and provide all equipment and personnel to run it -- for free. The only requirements are that the event has to run multiple days and should have "hundreds" of end-users accessing the network with 802.11 clients.

The program was the brain-child of David Callisch, communications director at Aruba. He said the company had been doing so many conferences anyway and had requests for gratis wireless access to be provides, that he suggested to management that it be treated like a marketing service.

"We all thought, what a chore," says Callisch, "but it turned out to be a benefit for us. We get hundreds of users to our switch... we don't get a lot of opportunities to have that many people using Wi-Fi cards on the equipment."

Because of the variations of users, he says they can see a hundred different network interface cards (NICs) and virtual private network (VPN) connections in the space of ten minutes at a tradeshow. Despite being very resource intensive and taking a lot of time away from other things, Aruba sees the Wi-Fi It as invaluable free product testing.

Aruba has already provided services for shows such as Networld+Interop (N+I) in Las Vegas in May and the Burton Group Catalyst Conference in San Francisco in July. Agreements are in place for Aruba to provide free Wi-Fi at the next N+I, in Paris in November this year.

Aruba will make deals with conference vendors on a case-by-case basis.

"We can't do all the conferences known to man," says Callisch, though he expressed a desire to do some non-technical shows, including the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. "People see it as a marketing gimmick, but we're capitalizing on doing it for free.... as a startup, we have to do creative things."

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