DragonCon 2014 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 again will be speaking. (You can see my schedule in an earlier post).
Dragon Con is so huge – spread across six massive buildings in downtown Atlanta – that wireless communication is essential to keep in touch during it. For the fourth year running, I’ve gone to downtown Atlanta and personally verified what WiFi options are available around the DragonCon site so attendees can know what to expect. This post contains my findings for 2014.
The map has been updated with some new hotspots and to remove ones that are gone. Much of the hotel information is unchanged from last year, but be sure to check the hotel you are staying in to be sure. The devil is in the details.
Just some of the info in this post that can save you time or money or both:
- Every host hotel this year has at least some free WiFi – and the paid options in your hotel room now typically include from 3 to 5 devices. I’ve got details.
- Is the hotel WiFi overloaded, and you desperately need to upload something? I’ll tell you several places to go in the nearby area that offer alternatives.
- Would you rather use a less overloaded WiFi by logging in with your existing WiFi account? (e.g. AT&T, Boingo, Xfinity, etc.) I’ve found several places you can do that including many new Xfinity hotspots added since last year.
- Do you need some Internet access but are not bringing a device? I’ll tell you which two hotels have computers you can use for free.
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:
- Free WiFi in the area
- Paid WiFi providers with hotspots nearby
- Hilton Hotel
- Hyatt Hotel
- Marriott Hotel
- Sheraton Hotel
- Westin Hotel
- Americas Mart (Dealer & Exhibit Halls)
- Security notes
- What about 3G or 4G?
Important Security Note
Unless you personally know the owner of a particular access point, please stick with the WiFi access points I explicitly mention in this article, and ignore any others you may see when connecting with your device. I will explain why in the section on security below.
And now for the free stuff….
Good news everyone! There is plenty of free WiFi at DragonCon – more than in past years. Every one of the official host sites has some free WiFi in the lobby areas.
The down side of free WiFi is it gets horribly overloaded with all the gadget-wielding con-goers. Do not expect great speed, and video streaming of any kind is right out. I noticed several occasions in recent years when the Hilton’s lobby WiFi completely crashed (and then came back in a few minutes), presumably because of this overloading. But for simple web browsing, social media and email, the free options usually work.
If you do need to work around a troublesome hotel wireless situation, there are several other locations nearby where you can get free WiFi – as long as you are willing to venture outside the host venues. I did some exploring and found many free and open WiFi locations, and several others that require a password that’s easy to get (e.g. ask your server in a restaurant). 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, and I have hours for many of them in the map. This map showing all the WiFi that I found when I walked around the site on Sunday August 17th and Saturday August 23rd. For those of you who can see color, the purple pins are host venues; green are open WiFi elsewhere and red are WiFi requiring a (username and) password of some kind. Click each pin for details:
I’ve put all the info I could determine into the custom Google Map above, click the view larger map link to see it in its own window with an interactive key. If for some reason the map doesn’t work for you, here’s a list of all the WiFi locations:
- Americas Mart has pay WiFi throughout the Dealer & Exhibit halls, see below.
- Aviva by Kameel in the Peachtree Center Food Court. (“KameelGuest“) (404) 523-5484
- Caribou Coffee in SunTrust Plaza (Only open Friday) 303 Peachtree (“Caribou“) (404) 681-0208
- Caribou Coffee in Peachtree Center Food Court (Open all weekend) 231 Peachtree (“Caribou“) (404) 688-3355
- Corner Bakery Cafe at 270 Peachtree (“CornerBakeryWiFi“) (404) 215-9000
- Courtyard Hotel at 133 Carnegie has free WiFi for guests, $4.95 fee for enhanced service for up to 6 devices. (“Courtyard Ethostream“) 2.4Ghz/5Ghz
- Ellis Hotel has a password-protected WiFi at 176 Peachtree (“Ellis Hotel Bar“) (404) 523-5155
- Fire of Brazil / Jalapeno Charlies at 218 Peachtree (“Fire of Brazil &Jalapeno Charlie“) No login required. (404) 525-5255
- Hilton has free WiFi in the lobby & public areas, see below.
- Hyatt has free WiFi in lobby, see below.
- Marriott has free WiFi in the lobby areas, see below.
- Meehan’s Public House has a password-protected WiFi at 200 Peachtree (“Meehans“) (404) 214-9821
- Motel 6 has free WiFi at 311 Courtland (“Motel 6“) No login required, 2.4Ghz only. (404) 659-4545
- Peachtree Center Food Court, 231 Peachtree (“PeachtreeCenter“) No login required.
- Rays in the City has a password protected WiFi at 240 Peachtree (“Rays Guest Wireless“) (404) 524-9224
- Ritz-Carlton Hotel has free WiFi in the lobby at 181 Peachtree (“Ritz_LOBBY“) (404) 659-0400
- Sheraton offers free WiFi in lobby, see below.
- Starbucks at 240 Peachtree – but NOT the ones in the hotels (“attwifi“) (404) 589-4522
- Sun Trust Plaza Food Court at 303 Peachtree (just off the direct walkway from the Marriott to the Hyatt) has an Xfinity / CableWiFi hotspot – you’ll need an Xfinity, Cox, Time Warner, Optimum or Bright House customer account to log in.
- Westin has free WiFi in the lobby areas at (“Westin Lobby“), see below.
- Several locations along Peachtree have an Xfinity / CableWiFi hotspot – you’ll need an Xfinity, Cox, Time Warner, Optimum or Bright House customer account to log in.
Note that most WiFi these days require you to log in using a web browser (and probably accept some terms of service legalese) before using the wireless. Some even ask for your name.
Many newer devices (iPhone, iPad and so on) will display this screen for you automatically upon connecting. On older devices you may need to open a web browser manually to click the “I accept” button or equivalent.
Keep that in mind if you are trying to check your email or social media – if it’s not working you need to open a browser to get past this screen first.
Using Your Existing WiFi Roaming Account
If the free WiFi options get overloaded, sometimes a good strategy is to find a non-free location to log in. The theory is the cost will guarantee there will be fewer freeloading users there and you may get a better connection.
If you already have an account on one of the providers listed below, you can go to the listed location and log in using your username and password for a hopefully better connection:
- AT&T: At the Hilton Hotel, take the main elevators up to the 5th, 12th or 19th floor to one of the “Space Lounges” where there is a place to sit right near the elevators. (This gets you away from the overloaded free WiFi in the lobby). Use the SSID “attwifi“. At the login web page follow the prompts to log in with your AT&T U-verse or DSL account. You may also want to try the Starbucks at 240 Peachtree (across from the Hyatt).
- Boingo: Courtyard by Marriott at 133 Carnegie Way. SSID: “Courtyard Ethostream” (Note: Boingo is no longer supported at the Marriott Marquis!)
- Comcast / Xfinity: This is the dominant cable/internet provider in Atlanta, and they have added many new hotspots since last year. They have an online hotspot finder and smartphone apps, but near the convention they are located in two main areas. The first is at the Sun Trust Plaza Food Court at 303 Peachtree, which is via a side door off the direct walkway from Marriott to Hyatt (but which is only open on Friday). The other area is all along Peachtree Street between the Hyatt and the Westin, and in and around the Peachtree Center block (see map). SSID: “xfinitywifi“
- Bright House: Anywhere you can find “xfinitywifi” or “CableWiFi” then click “Not an XFINITY Internet customer?” at bottom of login screen.
- Cox Cable: Anywhere you can find “xfinitywifi” or “CableWiFi” then click “Not an XFINITY Internet customer?” at bottom of login screen.
- Optimum:Anywhere you can find “xfinitywifi” or “CableWiFi” then click “Not an XFINITY Internet customer?” at bottom of login screen.
- Time Warner Cable:Anywhere you can find “xfinitywifi” or “CableWiFi” then click “Not an XFINITY Internet customer?” at bottom of login screen.
For the CableWiFi/Xfinity hotspots, note that Sun Trust Plaza Food Court is generally locked on the weekends since it is an office building, but you can access the hotspot from the Hyatt/Marriott walkway. The new hotspots in the Peachtree Street and Peachtree Center area (which have been added since last year) are a more accessible bet.
Now on to the hotels…
Atlanta Hilton Hotel WiFi (Skeptrack location)
Update August 29: the public WiFi has been renamed recently.
Hilton provides free WiFi in the lobby areas of the hotel. You can use the SSID of “hhonors_public” or “attwifi_public” – it’s the same system. Note: this is a change from last year when it used to be hhonors_lobby or attwifi. You must click through a web page with an agreement, but it remembers your device for 24 hours.
The lobby WiFi does work in some of the track rooms on the second through fourth floor, but the further you get from the central atrium the weaker it is. I found the signal exists but is weak in the ballrooms such as Grand Ballroom, Salon and Crystal Ballroom. Try to sit closest to the lobby in those rooms if you need the free WiFi while attending a session. (Refer to the Hilton maps starting on page 79 in the Pocket Program Guide to see the layout – usually the back of the room is closest to the lobby).
Up in the hotel use “hhonors” or “attwifi” and you will be charged, unless your room is on an Executive Level or your Hilton HHonors membership is Gold or Diamond. Because AT&T/Wayport runs it for the hotel, if you have an AT&T DSL or U-verse wireless plan you can log in with that at no extra charge. Just follow the prompts on the login screen. (And as mentioned above, the Space Lounges on the 5th, 12th and 19th floors just off the elevators, provide a good place for non-guests to use the AT&T system away from the crowds in the lobby).
If you do have to pay, you can bill it to your room or a credit card, it’s $12.95 for 24 hours (or $5.95 per hour) for up to 3 devices.
In previous years there was an old trick of connecting to “attwifi” where it is free in the lobby, then going upstairs to roam – but this no longer works now that Hilton has renamed the free access points.
The Hilton has a new computer lab for guests near the back of the lobby area on the left, there are four PCs, four Macs and two printers. Not sure if this will be accessible during the con as they usually put a food vendor there, but if so it’s an alternative to the public computers at the Sheraton. Expect to wait for access.
Note there are also access points named “Hilton-Meeting” which are for other events, these require an event code – don’t bother with those.
Hyatt Regency Hotel WiFi
The Hyatt provides its own free wireless (SSID: “Hyatt Lobby“) in the lobby areas.
It only really seems to work well in the lobby proper, as soon as you go to lower levels it drops off radically – and so I wouldn’t expect to use it in any track room. Hyatt explicitly disclaims their own WiFi coverage in their meeting rooms, which are mostly on the lower levels of the hotel. (Also see the 3G/4G section below).
The wireless for hotel guests (SSID: “Hyatt Guestroom“) is still $9.95 for 24 hours, with a premium speed option (including video) at $12.95 per day. The premium option includes 3 devices total under that fee. Service is provided by RoomLinx. Platinum and Diamond Gold Passports guests get basic Internet for free, paying only the extra $3 for premium if desired. More details on the Hyatt website here – but note the reference to T-Mobile there is incorrect, that hotspot no longer exists.
There’s also a “Hyatt Regency Meeting” hotspot, but this requires a code just like the other hotels, so don’t try it.
Marriott Marquis Hotel WiFi
In the past the WiFi here was provided by iBAHN and offered the ability to log in using accounts from other systems like Boingo. But that system is gone – so no more using your account from home to save money. In its place is an upgraded system with lots of the newer 5Ghz access points (as well as 2.4Ghz of course).
Free access is available in the lobby areas (SSID: “Marriott_LOBBY“). It does extend down to the lowest level (International Level) and somewhat into the ballrooms that adjoin the lobby. But I wouldn’t expect it to work deep inside the ballrooms or in any room distant from the atrium lobby. If you expect to use WiFi while in a track session, check the Marriott maps starting on page 74 of the Pocket Program Guide to see which rooms are closest to the central atrium.
Up in the guest rooms (SSID: “Marriott_GUEST“) the Internet is $14.95 per day for basic email & web access; or $18.95 for up to 3x faster high speed access. This can cover up to 5 different devices for the same room. If you are Marriott Rewards Gold or Platinum Elite member, your wireless is free. The hotel guest WiFi does reach down to the top level of the lobby for roaming purposes, but not much further.
Note that like the Hilton, the Marriott has separate access points for meetings which provide free WiFi to participants, these are named “Marriott_CONFERENCE”. Don’t bother with these, as DragonCon has not paid the Marriott to enable them.
Sheraton Hotel WiFi
This hotel has free WiFi (SSID: “Link @ Sheraton“) in the lobby areas. It gives you access for 2 hours. 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, there’s no additional fee. It seems to be mostly 2.4Ghz WiFi.
In my experience it is difficult if not impossible to get the lobby WiFi to work inside any of the track rooms. The lower level rooms like Georgia and Capitol (where registration is held) are practically wireless dead zones, so be aware of that before you get in a long registration line.
Sheraton also has a nice open access computer area one floor above the lobby next to the coffee shop, with seven Windows 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 (SSID: “Sheraton_GuestRoom“) which is $12.95 for 24 hours for up to 3 devices. 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 Hotel WiFi
The Westin has free WiFi in the lobby areas (SSID: “Westin Lobby“). It may reach into some of the meeting rooms that adjoin the lobby, but I wouldn’t count on it. (Please report your experiences). Check the Westin maps starting on page 87 of the Pocket Program Guide to see which meeting rooms are closest to the circular lobby area.
Hotel room Internet at the Westin uses SSID “Westin Guest“. It is $14.95 per day for up to 3 devices with an enhanced level of service (twice the speed) for $18.95 per day for up to 5 devices. Visitors can also log in to the guest room hotspots and pay the same rates with a credit card. Westin has a mix of 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz hotspots.
Like the Marriott and Hilton, the Westin also runs other access points like “Westin Meeting” for specific groups meeting in the hotel. Those will not be useful for DragonCon participants.
AmericasMart (Exhibit Halls)
Update August 30: Turns out the WiFi in AmericasMart is free this year, even though their website doesn’t say that.
As in 2013, the Dealer and Exhibit Halls are in AmericasMart building 1, which is at 240 Peachtree Street, across and a little bit south of the Hyatt. The two floors DragonCon is using are covered by the AmericasMart’s WiFi, which is provided by iBAHN. This year it is free, an improvement since last year.
Connect to SSID “AmericasMart“, there is no login screen. (In past years there was a login screen and it was $8.95 for 24 hours per device, and you can pay with Visa, MasterCard or American Express. There was also an option called “Unlimited Market” that Richard Murray tells me worked well for him in 2013). Both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz available. Further details on coverage on the AmericasMart website, but it hasn’t been updated to indicate it is free.
During my walkthrough this year I was unable to go into AmericasMart as it was closed – which is why I didn’t notice it was entirely free until the event started.
What about 3G or 4G coverage?
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 Hyatt (and to a lesser extent the Marriott) many of the smaller meeting rooms (such as the track rooms) are fairly deep inside the building. Some are technically in basement or even sub-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 67, and the Marriott map on page 74 of the Pocket Program Guide to see which rooms are on the lowest levels. Most of the meeting rooms in the Hilton and Westin are higher in the hotel, and some have windows, so you may have better luck there.
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 near a wall or in the back where you can reach one. Make sure you get there early for popular programming. As happens in airports, the available outlets might get claimed before you get there.
I covered other tips on keeping your devices powered up at a convention in my convention gadget guide from last year.
And Now For Some Security
Please try to communicate safely and securely while you are at DragonCon. I do computer security work in my day job, and this is serious stuff.
Fake (or “honeypot”) WiFi access points are a major hacking technique today. It’s become more common as nearly everyone has a WiFi device in their pocket. With tens of thousands of people at DragonCon, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tries to do it somewhere in downtown Atlanta during the event. If you connect to such an access point the owner of it could snoop on your communications, steal your passwords or even steal your identity.
If you doubt that this can be done, visit the EFF room in the Hilton hotel (room 201) and talk to the folks there, especially during the hacking panels. In past years they’ve run something called Wall of Sheep that shows just how easy it is to steal passwords on public WiFi.
With that in mind, here are some tips:
- Don’t connect to WiFi access points you see at DragonCon other than the ones I list here, unless you personally know (and trust) the person or organization who is running it.
- If you can use the 3G/4G on your device instead of WiFi in a given location at the convention, use it. Those signals are somewhat harder to spoof or tap. (But if you are worried about that happening, make sure you turn off data roaming on your device).
- When in your hotel room use the wired network (Ethernet cable) to plug in if available, and turn off the WiFi on your laptop. Several of the host hotels offer this including Hyatt, Sheraton and Westin.
- If you have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) feature on your computer or device, turn it on or log it in before doing anything else. Some people have one for work, but many better home routers or access points have this feature so you can securely route your traffic through your home Internet.
- If you have no VPN, for any website that has this feature (Twitter, Facebook, etc) activate the option to always use HTTPS instead of regular HTTP. Usually this is in your account settings or security settings on the site. Same thing with any Smartphone apps that you use regularly – go into the settings and pick the most secure options.
- For websites that don’t do this automatically, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has created Chrome and Firefox plugins called HTTPS Everywhere. Use them.
- Don’t use the same password on multiple services. Don’t use short passwords that are easy to guess. Use a password manager to securely keep track of your passwords for you.
- Be very wary of browser security error messages or unexpected requests to enter your password while online at the event. It might be an attempt to phish you. Close your browser and disconnect if you are unsure.
I have other general security tips in my post from SkepTech back in April.
Conclusion & Updates
There are plenty of ways to stay connected via WiFi and other forms of wireless Internet while attending DragonCon 2014. 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. If I get information during the convention I’ll relay it via Twitter.
To get those updates and more, you can follow me on Twitter here.
Update August 26: Wired networks and VPN note in security section, h/t to @mixdup.