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The Disney Theme Park Wi-Fi Experience

Friday, April 12, 2013

It’s been more than 6 months since the launch of Disney’s free theme park Wi-Fi.  Guests are now able to use their mobile devices to access the Disney guest Wi-Fi network.  This deployment was part of Disney’s billion dollar Next Gen investment into its parks and resorts.  Next Gen is Disney’s project that will see several different deployments of new technology and application development that will streamline the vacation experience for guests. 

As Disney Parks continues its Next Gen rollout a big part of what was needed to drive it was theme park wireless Internet access.   I’ve been on the Wi-Fi network and it seems very inconsistent at best.  I’m not exactly sure how well it will work once the Fastpass + program and the 'My Disney Experience' smartphone app is in full swing.  Fastpass + is Disney’s initiative to allow guests to reserve ride times as early as 6 months in advance of their trip.  It’s a bold step in theme park vacation planning.  With a theme park wireless network that seems inconsistent at best we’re left to wonder how well it will work trying to access the Next Gen applications it was intended for like the 'My Disney Experience' smartphone app.  There are other methods of network access like 3G and 4G cellular service and even personal hot spots and those services may help alleviate potential congestion of the in park Wi-Fi. 

What appears to be the problem with the inconsistent Wi-Fi access is just the large number of guests who access the network.  Not only that, but when those guests have access to the network they are trying to push large amounts of data through it.  Case in point, I’ve witnessed on a number of occasions guests who are using Apple’s Face Time app to stream a live parade to someone at home over the Wi-Fi network.  That takes up a decent chunk of network bandwidth.  What has happened is when one guest sees another guest streaming a live parade they start to do it as well creating more network congestion.  Mobile technology is advancing to the point where more can be done over the 4G network, but guests still prefer the Wi-Fi experience when they see it available. 

If you are user of mobile technology and tried to access the Wi-Fi network or even the 4G network within the Disney theme parks you’ve probably noticed how access and bandwidth gets worse as the day progresses.  This is because crowd levels pick-up, especially around 11:00AM to Noon.  Around 3:00PM in the afternoon it’s difficult to get the necessary bandwidth if you simply want to check Facebook or other social media sites.  There comes a point, especially during peak seasons, when the network is practically unusable to guests. 

As for the Wi-Fi at the resorts the experience seems much better.  It’s certainly not perfect and there have been times when I’ve been in a room where my Wi-Fi signal was not very strong.  This was somewhat frustrating as my Internet access was poor quality.  I’ve always had great access in the resort lobbies and even just outside of the resorts.  Typically, you’ll find the Wi-Fi access at the resorts far better than inside the theme parks. 

The concern with in park Wi-Fi is its usability.  With so many guests carrying smart devices today can the Wi-Fi network handle the load, especially with all of the Next Gen apps still to be deployed?  We do know that Disney will be using some sort of kiosk-type system within the theme parks for guests who don’t have a smart phone or smart device.  These kiosks will allow those guests to make their Fastpass + reservations.  These kiosks could also serve as a backup for those guests with smart devices that can’t access the Fastpass + system because of network congestion to make their ride reservations. 

Hopefully, Disney is monitoring their Wi-Fi network performance and realizes the amount of traffic in park guests are generating.  Guests are continually uploading pictures, videos, and even live streams through their network.  With so much traffic Disney’s Wi-Fi network may lose its hold on what it was originally intended; Next Gen and an enhanced, more streamlined theme park experience. 

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About this column

Aaron DelPrince looks at the various activities you and your family can experience at Walt Disney World


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