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Event IT: Key Points from 2010 to help you in 2011

As the outdoor events season quietens down a bit and focus moves to planning for 2011, I thought it would be useful to list out some of the trends we have seen during 2010 which can help with 2011 planning when it comes to IT and communications at event sites. Although focused on outdoor events most of the topics below apply equally to indoor events. So here we go:

  1. Plan and Book early – Connectivity providers have a few terms they love to use to push up costs – survey and expedite being two common ones. These costs mount rapidly and can generally be avoided by early engagement and planning. Last minute installations can end up being 2 or 3 times the cost of a normal installation. Other things to watch for include the ‘miscellaneous labour charges’, which often appear if a provider has to run cables around a site. This can be minimised by agreeing ‘demarcation’ at a suitable location and then cables being run by the event itself (we do this at most event sites and it can save £1,000s for larger deployments)
  2. PDQ / Payment Systems – In 2010 we have seen a significant rise in the number of events reporting problems with GPRS (mobile phone) PDQ machines – these are the credit/debit card machines used for merchandise, box offices, traders, etc. The problem stems from the fact that at events the mobile networks (Vodaphone, O2, Orange, etc) cannot handle the amount of data that users are trying to pull over the network, and with all the network congestion the PDQ machines cannot process transactions. The reason the problem is getting worse relates to the increase in smartphones using more data and also some reluctance by operators to put in temporary masts due to their high cost. However it is important to note that just because a temporary mast is installed is does not necessary mean that data services will be any better as most temporary masts are more for the benefit of voice calls. The alternative to GPRS PDQs are Wi-Fi PDQs – exactly the same machines but using a Wi-Fi network instead. Obviously this requires a Wi-Fi network to be in place but it means the network is fully controlled and transactions on the machines are much faster. There are options to rent Wi-Fi PDQs (we offer this service) but 2-3 weeks notice is required as the machines have to be configured with the relevant banking merchant id.
  3. VPN for Ticketing Systems – VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are a method for creating a secure connection between two locations such as an event site and a central database somewhere. They are often used by ticketing and stock systems which are increasingly being used from event sites. There are two things to watch for, firstly VPNs require good network connectivity, especially upload, which means basic broadband will not support it very well. The second area is that VPNs often require special firewall configuration, particularly if multiple VPNs are to be used.
  4. Wireless Spectrum Management – The use of wireless equipment on event sites continues to grow at a pace – general Wi-Fi, CCTV, ticket scanning, sound systems, audio and video links, etc. all make use of wireless solutions, many of which operate in the same frequency range. Harmony and reliable operation can only be achieved if everyone works together and early communication and coordination is key to ensure there is no interference.
  5. Smartphone Hunting – The rapid increase in smartphone devices with Wi-Fi creates new challenges for onsite networks, even when the event network is not intended for public access. The issue is that smartphones will continually ‘hunt’ for Wi-Fi networks and when they find one they try to connect. This creates a small load on the network whilst they negotiate a connection (which will eventually fail if the network is secure) and with enough devices trying to connect this load builds up to the point where it impacts real users. The solution involves using wireless equipment designed for larger loads coupled with proper network management as low end Wi-Fi routers are not designed to deal with large numbers of users.
  6. VoIP Phones – The use of VoIP phones at events is now commonplace and demand is growing as more people become frustrated with mobile networks at events. Use of VoIP is the best way to avoid having multiple BT lines and the only way to have a flexible solution allowing last minute deployment of additional phones.
  7. Smartphone Apps – More and more events are now commissioning their own apps for use at events but few events are considering the full picture which is critical for success. Most of these applications (certainly the more useful ones) require connectivity at the event to get updates. Typically the mobile networks struggle with demand at events and so the user gets a poor experience and rates the app badly. Many users also turn up at the event expecting to download the app which creates further (significant) demand. One way around this is to provide a locally controlled Wi-Fi network for use by the app. This can then also be used to deliver local content direct from the site.
  8. Public Wi-Fi Access – The increase in smartphones coupled with the massive expansion of publicly available Wi-Fi leads to more and more expectation that events will have Wi-Fi access. The costs of expanding an existing network being provided to site production, technical production, crew etc is not as high as people initially think and opens new avenues for sponsorship, advertising and rich content delivery.

As always, whether you a run a small event or a large event, we are always happy to provide advice, support and services to your event to ensure technology does not get in the way of delivering a great experience.

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