Apple Store Public Hotspot: Wild WiFi Action

Our Todd Ogasawara spent this holiday week counting wireless connections at Apple Stores. How many WiFi devices did he find? Enough, he says, to create one major MMORPG.

How many WiFi devices are connected to an average-sized Apple Store’s public hotspot as the holidays approach?

More than you think, I bet. If all connected users were so inclined, there’d be enough to create one really cool MMORPG. At least that’s what my unofficial tests revealed.

I’ve been curious about what my local Apple Store’s public hotspot network looked like for a while now. So recently, while out shopping, I launched Net Master HD for the Apple iPad to find out. The results were well worth the cost of the $10 Net Master.

And it turned into a real project.

I visited a mid-sized Apple Store at my local mall first. I found 208 devices usings the store’s open public hotspot. Most devices appeared to be on the display tables. These included Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPod touch devices.

I then headed to the biggest Apple Store in my area — that would be the anchor store in Honolulu. It was a Sunday, exactly a week before Dec. 25. Net Master found 335 devices connected to the store’s public WiFi hotspot.

Of course, the Apple Store doesn’t use consumer grade WiFi access points.

The device list indicates the store uses commercial-grade Cisco WiFi access points to serve up these hundreds of simultaneous wireless connections. I noticed both stores had some kind of VMware server software or utility running — either on an enterprise server or a regular desktop running Apple OS X Lion 10.7.2 Lion.

The number of connected devices no doubt varies by hour, day and season. And undoubtedly, I measured both stores at peak shopping times during a holiday season. But it’s safe to say, given these numbers, that a typical Apple Store’s got at least a few hundred WiFi devices accessing its network at any given moment. Double or triple that for one of those big city mega Apple Store locations.