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Four tech tips for this convention season

With South by Southwest and Emerald City Comicon coming up, this year’s convention season is about to officially begin and that means one thing.

Well, it means many things, but for the purposes of this article it means one thing: figuring out how to deal with your tech and gadgetry as you travel from one convention center to the next.

Conventions are notorious for having terrible tech setups...which, yes, is ironic in the cases of conventions like E3 that focus on tech. Somehow, every year, no matter how hard people prep and what promises convention organisers make, dealing with tech in a convention center is always a nightmare.

And it isn’t hard to figure out why. Even the most robust wi-fi system is going to get bogged down when thousands of people are trying to access it at once.

A lot of people get around the headache of trying to stay connected during conventions by giving up the ghost completely. They turn the wi-fi on their devices off and choose to leave them behind in hotel rooms or even at home.

This is certainly one option. It isn’t really practical anymore, though, since more and more convention organisers are becoming tech and web dependent for their programming and communication needs.

For example, most conventions are choosing to use event apps (opens in new tab) for their programs and schedules instead of hard copies. The apps help them keep the schedule updated and allows them to track metrics in real time.

They’re also helpful for you, because you can use them to coordinate with friends, leave feedback for tablers and presenters, play games, etc. Of course, you’ll have to be able to access them, which is tricky if the convention’s connections are spotty.

So how do you do it?

1. Pay for access

A lot of conventions, like PAX, have a BYOC program. You buy into the program for a few extra bucks on your registration cost (usually $10-$20) and, in exchange, you are able to register your computer with the convention’s private user wi-fi.

This helps you stay connected to the web even when the free public signal gets spotty or goes out.

2. Find the sweet spot

Here’s a hint: Expo Halls and Merchant Halls are notoriously terrible when it comes to wi-fi signals. This is because there are hundreds of merchants who are all accessing the same signals for their displays and to process their sales (opens in new tab).

Don’t even try to send messages, access web based apps or connect to social media when you are in an expo or merchant hall.

Instead, when you want to send the pictures you’ve been taking, or check for schedule updates, head out of the vendor areas and find a quieter area.

Lobbies, sitting areas, etc - the signal is usually stronger there and more reliable because not as many people are tapped into it. Or, you could simply go outside. Walk a block or so away (grab some snacks while you’re at it, convention center food is notoriously overpriced) and use your own cellular signal.

3. Reduce Your Devices

You do not have to bring your Nintendo DS, your WiiU, your tablet, your phone, your eReader, and your laptop with you to the convention center.

A phone can accomplish most goals (just remember your charger!). If you’re going to a pop culture or gaming con (opens in new tab), like PAX or one of the Comic Cons, you might want to take your portable gaming device, but make sure that it is turned off while you aren’t using it.

The fewer devices you have seeking out the signal, the better (and the better for your battery lives).

4. Bring Your Own

Invest in a portable hot spot of your own (opens in new tab) through your cellular provider. These devices are great because they’re able to tap into tower signals so that you can use your cell’s data plan to power your web and data connection.

The great thing about the hot spot is that you can share it with friends, which makes playing games and sharing photos, etc much simpler and convenient.

These are just some of the ways that you can make it easier to stay connected to the show and to your friends while you are at conventions this season. Did we leave something out? Let us know!

Sam is Head of Content at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and has more than six years' experience as a reporter and content writer, having held the positions of Production Editor, Staff Writer, and Senior Business Writer at ITProPortal.