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Autumn Gathering Summary

(l-r) WOMAD Festival Director Chris Smith discusses mobile coverage with O2’s Richard Owens, Etherlive’s Chris Green and Paul Pike from IVS

It’s been such a busy November that it’s only now that I have a had a chance to reflect on the Autumn Gathering. The day was split into two sessions with the morning focused on corporate events and conferences, and the afternoon structured around outdoor events and festivals. Below are some very brief notes covering a few of the topics discussed.

Connectivity & IT Support in Hotels & Venues

For conferences and product launches the IT needs are now typically a lot more than ‘a bit of Wi-Fi’. Quality Wi-Fi with appropriate capacity, dedicated streaming bandwidth, hook-ups for varying accreditation type systems and on-site technical support to deal with VPNs, bandwidth management and media support are all key aspects.

A concern raised by several attendees was the often inconsistent quality of connectivity in venues and their knowledge of how it works. This is an area we have been partnering with several venues on to deliver enhanced connectivity and the level of technical support that a conference or launch now needs. We have several case studies showing the cost of installing higher bandwidth and more robust infrastructure is rapidly recouped through increased revenue, this is particularly important for London venues hosting events in 2012. We are actively working with several groups to drive a better approach to conference & venue Wi-Fi, it is a more complex area though than it may look requiring extensive knowledge of how to deliver high density environments with the right equipment.

Information Security

Data security was a hot topic for corporate conferences, especially when people realised how insecure the often used short, simple passphrase approach is on Wi-Fi networks. The good news is that it’s an easy one to fix with a more complex passphrase or ideally a system which uses individual user names and passwords and enhanced encryption. Avoiding the use of the event or company name as the SSID/network name (or hiding it altogether) was also discussed as a way of avoiding unwanted attention.

It should now be the norm that networks are segregated into organiser, attendee, etc. and approaches such as client isolation are used to avoid unintentional sharing of information between connected users. A simple plain English guide to aspects such as the use of Https (secure websites), VPNs, encryption & authentication, solving typical problems with email when on a different network etc, was deemed a useful addition to the organisers toolkit and something that we are looking at producing.

Social Media

Social media split the room in two – those running internal conferences who were often frustrated that their IT department refused to sanction use of social media and those running product launches who used social media to the max. Lots was covered in this area, some of the key points were:

  • Social media like any channel requires a strategy
  • It takes time (1 hour per day was muted by several), you get out what you put in
  • Needs structure and tools (hash tags, TweetReach, Yazmo Live, Socialoomph, Thinkwall and hootsuite all came up)
  • Use live twitter feeds to ask questions to panel members and break down any barriers. Control and nurture back channels.
  • Schedule general content releases prior to the event so you can concentrate on the here and now tweets and comms during the live period. Have a calendar of teasers to pull people into the event.
  • Use of video is coming to the forefront and a general agreement that even low cost footage taken on a smart phone can achieve good results if it manages to capture a moment or a different angle.
  • It requires a working infrastructure at the event to be successful!

Smartphone Apps

This session started with a discussion on the hype around apps and comments that this was coming to an end with people now having to really question why they need an app and understand what the purpose is, with agreement that often a poor app can be more damaging than no app at all!

From there the discussion moved into ‘native apps’ versus ‘web apps’, like with many things there is no straight forward answer but there are some key differentiators:

  • Native apps can be designed to work without connectivity, with web apps this is nearly impossible
  • Web apps can be made cross-platform more easily and cost effectively
  • Web apps are on the whole easier to maintain
  • Native apps are more feature rich and can utilise more smartphone functionality (and hence look more slick)

Alongside this there were common operational aspects:

  • If you promote an app then the infrastructure needs to be able to support it
  • Content needs to be managed before and during the event. And afterwards if you want to maintain usage.
  • If the app is provided by someone else it will still be associated with your event so the quality is important

Mobile Phone Service

We’ve all been at events and got frustrated that the mobile phone service has collapsed under the sheer weight of users so not surprisingly this was a hotly discussed topic. Richard Owens from O2 did a great job in sharing examples of the scale of the challenges and explaining what O2 have been doing to try and address the problem. One great example came from the Royal Wedding where they actively moved capacity along the route of the Royal carriage to deal with the spike in photo uploads. Learnings from this are now being incorporated into a more automated approach across the O2 network.

For permanent venues additional capacity is a realistic option via adding more base stations around the venue, again an area O2 have already worked with several venues on. For temporary event sites the challenge is more complex due to the cost and complexity of temporary cell towers, however, options such as Wi-Fi offload and femtocells are becoming more practical.

The underlying message was one of the need for a partnership approach between events and mobile operators to deal with the issue as many events felt the bad experience of attendees did reflect to some degree on the event, and if nothing else made it difficult for organisers to run the event effectively.

Festival Comms & Public Wi-Fi

The change in expectations for festival comms over the last few years has been huge such that VoIP, internet, CCTV and Wi-Fi are the norm. The questions have moved onto how to deliver higher capacity connectivity and integrate services across a large site delivering coordinated gate scanning, real-time noise monitoring and PDQ ‘chip and pin’.

Public Wi-Fi access attracted a wide range of comment ranging from ‘festivals should be technology free’ to ‘how to monetise Wi-Fi’. Every event is different and it follows that approaches to public Wi-Fi will vary but it’s worth noting that the underlying thread is not really about public internet usage (although it is popular and has it’s uses for aspects such as travel, weather and news), it’s about the channel which is created between the event and the attendee providing an opportunity to deliver an extended festival experience. This may take the form of information updates, promotion of different events on site, access to exclusive content and the opportunity to enable social communities on site. It also provides a platform to deliver new services such as cashless payment, interactive apps and sponsor promotions.

As always the Gathering gave us a great opportunity to engage in discussion with those in the industry to really see what’s of interest and what the pain points are. The Gathering is a great focus point and hopefully leads to ongoing discussions to ensure the technology available meets the needs of organisers, promoters, production teams, suppliers and attendees.

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