WiFi and Internet tips for Dragon*Con 2012

NOTE! This post is getting more and more out-of-date. An updated version of this post for DragonCon 2014 is now available, please read that one.

Updated Friday August 31: Most hotels now have some free option, I’ve updated this post and the map to reflect that. I’ve also included more details in the map.

Dragon*Con 2012 in Atlanta is this weekend. It is a gigantic convention for fans of science fiction, fantasy, comic books and other pop-culture topics. For several years now it has had a dedicated track of programming for skeptics called Skeptrack, at which I will be speaking.

Dragon*Con is a huge event that spans a big hunk of downtown Atlanta. Making good use of wireless communications to stay in touch during the event is essential. With social media, you can keep up with what your friends are up to elsewhere at the convention, and even see photos and video of what is going on elsewhere.

But all of that means staying connected, and mostly it means staying connected to the Internet. Since the event spans several hotels, each with their own wireless systems, this can be a bit of a pain.  There are also some gotchas with simply relying on your 3G or 4G coverage via your mobile device.

This blog post will help you sort it out.  Just some of the info in this post that can save you time or money or both:

  • Do you need some Internet access but are not bringing a laptop? I’ll tell you which hotel supplies computers you can use for free.
  • Are you staying at the Marriott Marquis? I’ll tell you how to save at least $5 per day on WiFi charges.
  • On a tight budget and desperately need some free WiFi near the con? I’ll tell you several places to go.

All that and much more, after the jump…

For quick reference, here’s a table of contents you can use to jump forward as needed:

WiFi at the Con

Atlanta is a major American city so of course it has coverage under all of the nationwide cellular services including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. It also has 4G coverage, both WiMax and LTE (details below). So you have a number of options to stay connected. Let’s start with the free stuff.

Free WiFi

There are a few locations you can get free WiFi, if you are willing to venture outside the comforts of the five host hotels. Keep in mind the host hotels are business hotels (not resorts) and they stay in business by selling services to convention goers. So the wireless internet is definitely not free inside the hotels (with a few exceptions).

I did some exploring and found at least eight easily accessible locations near the convention where you can get free WiFi. These are perfect for a daily photo upload or blog post, but will definitely not keep you connected 24/7. Please keep in mind these are all associated with businesses, and they would appreciate your support. At least buy a Coke or a coffee or something before using their bandwidth!

Also keep in mind most of these businesses are not open 24 hours – some are not open at all on Saturday or Sunday. I’ve included their phone numbers so you can check.

I’ve put all the info including the hours I could determine into the custom Google Map above. If for some reason the map doesn’t work, here’s the basic rundown:

  • Caribou Coffee in SunTrust Plaza (Only open Friday) 303 Peachtree (“Caribou”) (404) 681-0208
  • Caribou Coffee in Peachtree Center (Open all weekend) 231 Peachtree (“Caribou”) (404) 688-3355
  • Corner Bakery Cafe at 270 Peachtree St. (“CornerBakeryWiFi”) (404) 215-9000
  • Fire of Brazil / Jalapeno Charlies at 218 Peachtree (“Fire of Brazil &Jalapeno Charlie”) (404) 525-5255
  • Hilton now has free WiFi in the lobby & public areas, see below.
  • Hooters at 209 Peachtree St. (“Hooters”) (404) 522-9464
  • Hyatt now offers two hours of free WiFi in lobby, see below.
  • Marriott offers one day of free WiFi, see below.
  • Peachtree Center Food Court, 303 Peachtree (“PeachtreeCenter”)
  • Rays in the City at 240 Peachtree St. (“Rays Guest Wireless”) (404) 524-9224
  • Sheraton offers two hours of free WiFi in lobby, see below.
  • Starbucks at 240 Peachtree St. NOT the ones in the hotels! (“attwifi”) (404) 589-4522

Note that almost all of these require you to log in using a web browser (and accept the terms of service) before using the wireless. Keep that in mind if you are there to check your email or Twitter – you’ll have to open a browser first to get connected.

WiFi is a bit more complicated at the hotels. Because Dragon*Con is spread across five official hotels, and each is run by a different company, the WiFi details vary. I’ve got the details below, they were accurate last year and I’ve done my best to check for changes this year. Leave a comment if you find a mistake.

Be warned: the hotel WiFi systems, particularly the ones with partially free options (Marriott, Sheraton) are bound to be overloaded during the convention. Don’t expect them to be super fast at all times. I definitely would not plan on streaming video from your fan table 24/7 unless you’ve made special arrangements.

Atlanta Hilton WiFi (Skeptrack location)

Updated August 30: Hilton WiFi is now free in public areas!

The Hilton runs its own WiFi and has coverage throughout the building. You can use the SSID of “hhonors” (like most Hilton properties) or “attwifi” – it’s the same system.  It’s free in the public areas.

On Thursday I measured the speed of their system in the Skeptrack room at 2 Mbps download, about 0.95 Mbps upload.  Your mileage may vary during the convention, of course – thousands more people will be here.

Up in the rooms use “hhonors” and you will be charged, unless you room is on an Executive Level or your HHonors membership is Gold or Diamond.  Because AT&T/Wayport runs it for the hotel, if you have an AT&T wireless plan you can log in with that at no extra charge.  Just follow the prompts on the login screen.

If you do have to pay, you can bill it to your room or a credit card, it’s $5.95 for an hour or $12.95 for a full day.  Tip: if you sweet-talk a hotel employee such as the Concierge, they can give you a code to access the wireless. Be subtle.

Note there are also access points named “Hilton-Meeting” which are for other events, these require an event code – don’t bother with those.

Atlanta Marriott Marquis WiFi

Updated August 30.

This hotel is directly across Courtland Street from the Hilton and is often the center of evening activities due to its large atrium lobby and many bars. Their wireless is provided by iBAHN. (SSID: “ibahn” or “Marriott_Lobby”). If you are Marriott Rewards Gold or Platinum Elite member, you get free wireless.

Also, you appear to get one day (24 hours) of free wireless in the Marriott when you first access it. After your first day is up, the public area rates are as follows, payable by credit card:

  • 15 minutes – $3.95 + $0.25 each add’l minute
  • One day – $9.95

Inside the guest rooms, wireless is $12.95 per day, which includes Ethernet access and unlimited phone calls. You can roam onto the WiFi in the public areas as well.

However, I recommend you not pay the above rates. Why? iBAHN also supports users roaming from the following third-party WiFi providers:

Many of these providers have per-day or monthly subscription prices considerably lower than $12.95 or $9.95 per day. For instance, I use Boingo sometimes at airports, and they offer a $9.95 per month subscription rate. T-Mobile has a $9.99 per month rate for those with phone contracts. There are other rates and plans including per-day rates that vary with location.

You may already have an account with one of them. If not, set up an account on one of these other providers prior to arriving at the hotel. (AT&T, Boingo, BT OpenZone and T-Mobile seem well suited for home users, the others are very business oriented).

When you log in to the Marriott WiFi, click “Subscription Service” or “Roaming Partner” on the iBAHN login screen and click next. You can select your provider and use your username and password from the other service to log in. You’ll definitely save money.

Note that like the Hilton, the Marriott has separate access points for meetings which provide free WiFi to participants, these are named “ibahn_conference” or “Marriott_Conference”. Don’t bother with these, as Dragon*Con has not paid the Marriott to enable them.

Hyatt Regency Atlanta WiFi

Updated August 30.

The Hyatt provides it’s own wireless (SSID: “Hyatt”) in the lobby and meeting areas. The T-Mobile hotspot coverage which was here in the past is gone.

Hyatt’s pricing is $12.95 for 24 hours of use, per device. There are also other plans, like $5.95 for 3 hours, and $9.95 for lower speed and so on. Hyatt explicitly disclaims their own WiFi coverage in their meeting rooms, which are mostly on the lower levels of the hotel, so be warned.  (Also see the 3G/4G section below).

New in 2012: There’s now a separate “Hyatt Lobby” hotspot that gives you 2 free hours of access in the lobby areas. I measured the speed of that on Thursday at 1.91 Mbps download and 0.93 Mbps upload, but your mileage may vary.

There’s also a “Hyatt Regency Meeting” hotspot, but this is just like the other hotels, don’t use it.

Sheraton WiFi

Updated August 30.

This hotel has a partially free WiFi (SSID: “Link @ Sheraton”). It gives you access for 2 hours and covers the lobby areas. Keep in mind the caveat though – as a free option, it is bound to be overloaded a bit. (Also, its supposed to be just for guests of the hotel, so play it cool).

After the first 2 hours of free access, it will force you to log back for another 2 hours in but according to the Sheraton employees I spoke to on Thursday, there’s no additional fee.

Sheraton also has a nice open access computer area one floor above the lobby, with eight computers and a printer that guests can use. I would expect these to be overloaded with users during the convention, but might be useful in a pinch.

There is also a separate WiFi in the rooms, also $11.95 for 24 hours. These access points don’t seem to cover into the lobby or meeting room areas, so I wouldn’t plan on using them while outside your room.

Westin WiFi

The Westin has WiFi in the lobby and meeting room areas (SSID: “Westin Lobby”). They have tiers of service as follows:

  • Standard (1 MBps down/1 MBps up) $14.95 per day
  • Premium (2 MBps down/2 MBps up) $18.95 per day

They only accept credit cards when you log in.

Like the Marriott and Hilton, the Westin also runs other access points under other names for specific groups meeting in the hotel. Those will not be useful for Dragon*Con participants.

What about 3G or 4G coverage?

Based on the above rates, WiFi could be costly, depending on how you need to use it.  You might be considering relying on the 3G/4G coverage of your mobile device, possibly including tethering your laptop or tablet to it.  Atlanta has 4G of all flavors now, including WiMax from Clear, Sprint, Comcast and others and LTE from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.  I’ve used both Sprint and Clear from windowed rooms in the Hilton quite successfully in past years.

Relying on 3G/4G can work, but there are some gotchas.  Particularly in the Marriott and the Hyatt, many of the smaller meeting rooms (such as the track rooms) are fairly deep inside the building. Some are technically in basement levels.

These are very large concrete and steel buildings, and therefore the wireless signals often don’t penetrate that deeply inside the building.  I’ve even had trouble with 4G speeds in the Hyatt lobby area in the past, which has plenty of glass above it.

Bottom line: until you actually try it out, don’t assume your wireless Internet service on your mobile device will work in any particular room that doesn’t have windows.  In particular, check the Hyatt map on page 68, and the Marriott map on page 74 of the Pocket Program Guide to see which rooms are on the lowest levels.

Richard Murray reports that AT&T LTE works fine on his iPad3 in the dealers area in the basement of the Marriott.

Don’t Forget Power!

If you’re planning to live blog, live tweet and so on at the show, be mindful of your power requirements!  Always have a charger with you, and take any opportunity you can to grab a recharge while attending programming.

In most of the track rooms, particularly the smaller ones, there are usually several electric outlets available. The key is finding a seat where you can reach one – so make sure you get there early for popular programming.  As happens in airports, the available outlets might get claimed before you get there.

Constant tweeting, photos and other communication will eat up your battery much faster than normal phone use. The bottom line is: plan ahead. If your devices have removable batteries, buy extras and bring them with you! Be very diligent about recharging all your batteries each night so you start each day ahead of the game.

Bring extra charger cables for all your devices if you have them. If your devices can charge via a USB connection or from wall power, bring both kinds of cable. You never know when you might be short of power and sitting next to someone who is willing to let you charge from their laptop or notebook computer.

For portable devices that can charge from a USB port, there are a number of options in the form of an external battery packs. I found a couple of options on Amazon.com in my research.

Conclusion & Notes

There are plenty of ways to stay connected via WiFi and other forms of wireless Internet while attending Dragon*Con 2012. Make good use of them to maximize the value you get out of the weekend.

Please comment or email or tweet me if you notice anything I got wrong or have additional information.

You can follow me on Twitter here as well.

9 thoughts on “WiFi and Internet tips for Dragon*Con 2012

  1. Christopher Carter

    These are some great tips Tim. Just a couple of things to add, might be useful for some.

    1. If you own a Seagate Satellite external hard drive, you can use it as a hotspot when connecting to another WiFi service. This in a sense will allow you to utilize one connection to the WiFi provider (thus one charge) but actually connect up to 5 devices at a time. The same principal should work for something like an Airport Express or similar portable router.

    2. As for power issues, I recommend picking up a good external battery like the i.Sound Portable Power Max with 16,000 mAh. It has 5 USB ports for charging, and can even handle The New iPad, or any iPad/device with up to 2.5 Amps of charging capability. You can find it on Amazon here:
    http://www.amazon.com/i-Sound-Portable-Power-iPhone-BlackBerry/dp/B00439G3WS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346135932&sr=8-1&keywords=i.sound+16000

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