EE have launched their Wi-Fi Calling service and Vodafone are expected to follow shortly along with other operators. With the prevalence of other VoIP based calling such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, etc. you could be excused for thinking what all the fuss is about.

There are two big things about Wi-Fi Calling, the first is that it uses your normal mobile number so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a mobile signal you can still receive and make calls on your normal number.

The second aspect of true Wi-Fi Calling is that it is seamless – you don’t have to launch an app and make a conscious decision to switch, it is handled directly by the phone. Here though lies an issue in that only newer generation phones support this aspect today, however, it is expected that all future phones will adopt it. Seamless is also not truly seamless yet in that active calls at this point cannot roam from the mobile operator network to Wi-Fi or vice versa but this is expected to be introduced in the future.

The other cheeky point to note is that operators are still likely to charge (or deduct from bundled minutes) for a call made over Wi-Fi even though they are not providing the network.

For event organisers Wi-Fi Calling sounds like a great development as requests to improve mobile coverage and capacity is up at the top of the list of the things we get asked to fix most frequently, yet generally we are fairly powerless to address as the current system has been a closed environment controlled by the mobile operators.

At a high level this is a great development for event organisers, especially for production staff who can be offered an alternative to the mobile network very easily but it throws up some challenges which need to be considered very carefully if it is to be used beyond production staff. Any event providing a Wi-Fi network for its attendees is now potentially going to see extra demand on that network, not so much in terms of capacity as voice traffic is fairly small, more in terms of quality of service.

Voice traffic is not tolerant of congested networks, previously an attendee just downloading some email might see the network as being a bit slow but it still works, with voice it is a different story with stuttering audio rendering the call unworkable and frustrating the user far more than slow email.

Event organisers will need to make conscious decisions about the use of Wi-Fi Calling and ensuring any network is capable of delivering it at a quality that is acceptable to users. This may mean high density design and increased internet capacity – both of which can push up costs.

For smaller events this is not likely to be that much of a problem but as you scale up to large outdoor events with thousands of people the challenge is a lot more significant. Wi-Fi Calling has the potential to help solve one of the big frustrations at festivals, arenas and sports events but without a good public Wi-Fi network it could make the frustration worse.

The interesting question is that if Wi-Fi Calling is adopted by users and becomes the norm when in a public Wi-Fi hotspot will attendees increasingly expect it at events? And if so, who pays?

One of the most common requests we get is ‘Can you fix the mobile phone coverage at my event?’ It may be a simple question but the answer is not. There are many factors involved – signal coverage, network capacity, availability of mobile wireless spectrum and the cost of temporary masts to name a few. For events held at a temporary site like a festival the permanent infrastructure put in place by mobile operators is simply not designed to deal with 10,000 or more attendees descending for a short period.

The current approach for bigger events is the deployment of temporary mobile masts but this is not generally a good solution as the masts are costly to deploy, require separate masts for each operator, do not offer much additional capacity and have limited spectrum available for use. The result normally being that experience during the event remains poor.

Some operators have offered small ‘femtocells’ which provide a small area of mobile phone coverage using a broadband connection, however, they have been very limited in terms of how many users they can support and have to be registered at locations to be used. They also require all users to be pre-registered which limits their usability.

Becoming a thing of the past?

Becoming a thing of the past?

These on-going challenges with mobile coverage at events makes the announcement last week by O2/Telefonica about the launch of TuGo all the more interesting. On the surface it looks like another VoIP app like Viber and Skype but the difference is it uses your existing mobile number so it doesn’t matter to the caller whether you are on the normal mobile network or a Wi-Fi network. With Wi-Fi coverage at events under the control of the organiser this finally means that “mobile” coverage can be extended across event sites either just for crew or for attendees too. This can be scaled up or down based on need and tied to existing provision for event production teams making it far more efficient than having large mobile masts.

There is a catch as the Wi-Fi voice minutes used do count against your normal voice minutes but given the way most mobile contracts are structured these days this is not such an issue considering the potential for improved coverage. At present only O2 have launched an app to do this but hopefully with the pressure from services such as Skype and now TuGo the other operators will follow suit and offer similar services.

Maybe at last we will see mobile operators see Wi-Fi as an extension to their offering rather than a competitor.

Etherlive provide temporary telephony services for events using a mixture of VoIP (Voice over IP) and direct copper (BT) connections.

Direct copper phones are required by some events for emergency liaison teams but most other telephony can be provided using VoIP technology. When requiring traditional BT lines Etherlive’s provisioning team arrange orders, installation dates and work directly with BT Openreach ensuring everything is installed as required.

Photo of cups and string

Temporary telephony has moved on

VoIP at its simplest is a phone service delivered over a network and is the way nearly all modern installations are completed. By providing service over the site network and the internet, phone call costs are very low rate (or free in the case of national calls) and because the handsets are powered from the network they can be quickly installed or added as a last minute requirement. Modern VoIP phones also come with advanced features including speakerphones, ring groups, hunt groups,voice mail and provide a wired internet connection for computers.

Etherlive deploy two types of VoIP handset used for events; wired and wireless.

Wired VoIP phones are for those who wish to have a traditional desk or conference phone in a room or wish to assign a phone to a specific department. Handsets can also be fitted with headsets for those working on high call volume desks.

Wireless VoIP phones are based on the latest standards of business DECT technology and can therefore can roam throughout the event.  These handsets are splash proof and provide a good alternative for site & production managers who need to be on the move where the cellular network is not good enough to rely on a mobile phone.  The handsets communicate using the same system as the wired versions so internal calls are free and external calls are at a low rate.

For larger deployments a VoIP PBX (the modern equivalent to a telephone exchange in a small box) is installed onsite and can be linked between sites or to an existing office. This unit manages all calls, voicemail and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) features.

For more information please look at our VoIP page or contact us where we will be pleased to help you find the right solution for your event.

We were truly flattered to receive the Communications Company of the Year 2012 award at last Wednesdays (1st Feb) Event Production Awards at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London.

Any recognition of our company is fantastic but to be judged by a group of peers is an excellent testament for the team at Etherlive who consistently go above ad beyond to keep our customers working through day and night.

The thanks would not be complete without mentioning our customers who choose to use Etherlive at their events. We understand the amount of trust which customers place in us to deliver their critical communications at their events so we back up our delivery with a continuous focus on improving existing services and bringing new services to the market through innovation.

Here’s to a successful and busy 2012 event season for organisers, production teams and suppliers alike. Article from Event Industry News here

Etherlive pickup Best Communications Company award (photo from eventindustrynews.co.uk

The statement above is the headline of an Inquirer story published on Monday 6th Feb based on information taken from a PDF distributed by London 2012 to help businesses prepare for the Olympics. The headline may be a bit sensationalist – ‘may cause internet access to be slow for some’ isn’t quite as eye-catching – but there are some valid points to take on board:

1. The main issue is the expected increase in volume of usage of the internet by locals and visitors alike. The problem though is not the internet itself (or more correctly the ‘backbone’ of high capacity links that form the network), it is the local broadband access via services like ADSL and cable which may become overloaded at exchanges and concentration points. Many of these services are based on a ‘contention ratio’, sometimes as high as 50:1, which relies on not everyone using their internet connection at the same time for good performance to be maintained. Business ADSL/SDSL services typically have a much lower contention ratio (around 10:1 or lower) and if you are relying on internet access during the Games it would be wise to check this for your provider. At events we operate at we typically only use services which have a 1:1 contention ratio to eliminate this risk. Services such as optic fibre and leased lines in general should also have a 1:1 ratio.

2. Exchange congestion is another concern as many broadband ADSL providers use BT infrastructure to provide their service. Again it can be the case that there is element of contention across the services leading to a slowdown. This area is harder to deal with but providers who are using an LLU (“Local Loop Unbundled”) service have more control over their capacity so should be able to manage performance better. Again at events we will always an LLU service wherever possible and in fact in many locations we do not traverse any BT infrastructure other than the ‘last mile’ copper pairs or fibre.

3. Site-to-Site internet links are a concern for businesses where they have multiple sites connected via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which traverses the internet, as any general congestion will also impact their site to site links. This is a deeper technical discussion based on needs but one approach is what is known as an ‘MPLS network’ which routes data between sites without it going out onto the true public internet. This is generally only possible if the same connectivity provider is used at all locations (this is an approach we use for larger and more complex multi-site events) which can have significant benefits.

4. Home based or remote workers will be another challenge as it is expected that far more people will work from home during the Games and many companies do not have capacity for everyone to be connected remotely on a VPN at the same time. The issues above may apply to the home based or remote worker but in addition it is important that the central location has enough internet capacity and infrastructure to deal with all these additional users.

5. We all know what happens to mobile networks at a large event and the situation is expected to be similar during the Games. Yes lots of additional capacity will be put in place but there is only so much the mobile operators can do so it would be wise to assume there will be problems. In the events area it will be much safer to deploy a standalone phone system (VoIP/DECT) which will operate outside of the mobile network. Another aspect to consider is any ‘chip & pin’ payment terminals as many of these operate using the mobile GPRS network which may have issues during the Games. The alternative is Wi-Fi/IP based units which operate over an internet connection – assuming the issues above have been considered!

In summary, it is wise to examine internet provision at locations and at home if it is a critical service as there could well be impacts but with the right planning and service provision these issues can be minimised. For events organisers, especially those organising events in London during the Games period, it is very important that internet access is considered as soon as possible and the right level of provision is made – where in previous years a normal ADSL line has sufficed the risk this year may make it wise to change this to a businesss service which does not have contention issues.

If you are concerned about internet access provision and performance during the games then contact us at 2012@www.etherlive.co.uk

This week sees our 4th consecutive year exhibiting at the Showman’s Show. The show, at Newbury Showground on Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th October, in a way marks a transition from the 2011 outdoor event season to the start of the 2012 season, although these days we see a variety of outdoor events year-round.

Etherlive ready for it's 4th Showmans Show

Etherlive prepares for its 4th Showmans Show

2012 in the UK is of course a bit of a one off with the Olympics and Paralympics occurring right at the peak of the outdoor event season. We are providing a number of services for Olympic related activity, such as all the IT, communications and broadcast provision for the London Media Centre, but we have been very careful to ensure this has no impact on our existing customers and their events.

What is important though is booking and planning for 2012, especially in London and other locations that will see Olympic activity. Provision of connectivity such as fibre and broadband services will see longer lead times due to sheer demand (we are ordering many services already so that they are provisioned very early next year). Transportation is another area which is impacted with requirements on suppliers to submit transport plans for London well in advance of events if they occur during the broad Olympic period. These aspects and others are all good topics for discussion at Showman’s if you are planning an event in 2012.

This year we are on Stand 71 of the indoor hall where we will be demonstrating a new generation of mobile VoIP handsets – allowing the freedom of a mobile phone with the cost advantages of VoIP. These units also couple up with an alarm and monitoring system providing a new level of integrated service for event organisers.

We will also be launching our latest innovation; Event Band, a suite of tools using RFID technology facilitating payment systems, loyalty services, accreditation and crew management. This technology will sit alongside the latest generation wireless chip & pin PDQs providing reliable payment methods for bars, merchants, exhibitors and ticketing.

The latest networked noise monitoring support offered by Etherlive will be on display, along with a demonstration of next generation satellite broadband, offering internet anywhere from the new KA band with higher internet speeds.

Alongside all the new products we will also have our core network, communications and CCTV technologies on display, solutions that have been used time and time again across a wide range of events connecting thousands of users. Outside we will also have one of our communications tower lights offering CCTV, Wi-Fi and public address as well as an economical lighting system. This can be found on the Aceplant stand (169) at the end of Avenue G.

Recently we announced that Etherlive has joined ESSA (Event Supplier and Services Association), alongside ongoing membership of the AIF (Association of Independent Festivals) and the ASAO (Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations). As well as actively participating in these organisations we also offer special services to fellow members.

We will have plenty of staff on hand to discuss event requirements and provide cost effective solutions to a broad range of connectivity, communications and other event IT needs.

 

For some time we have been really keen to get together a group of thought leaders from the events industry to discuss a range of technology related topics. With a fantastic team effort this event, which we called ‘The Gathering’, was held on the 30th of March at Lords futuristic media centre. Each of the four panels was focused on a specific area of technology with industry experts giving practical guidance, their opinion and answering questions from the audience. The notes below highlight some of the points raised but a lot was covered in the five hours so they are just a very small window on the discussions . To keep the discussion about technology in events going we aim to keep the twitter hashtag #eventtech for questions and comments.

Ticketing and Cashless Payments – Tom McInerney facilitated a panel involving Paul Pike from Intelligent Venue Solutions and Darren Jackson from Ticketscript discussing the latest innovations.

  • Many events are now becoming aware of the customer data associated with tickets. The opinion of the panel was in many cases this is worth more than the face value of the ticket as events should be starting to build profiles from their customers which can then be the cornerstone of many other activities (such as loyalty schemes).
  • Loyalty systems may take the form of branded cards or RFID wristbands but the important element to consider is using these in more than just a ‘closed loop’ way, perhaps opening them up for eating out in the local area or purchasing merchandise providing another revenue stream for the event.
  • Paul Pike discussed trials which are under exploration for this year which would see significant steps in making cashless events a reality.

Social Media – Chaired by Ian Irving the panel included Andrew Cock-Starkey from Lords and Jonathan Emmins from Amplify discussing how events can use social media before, during and after an event.

  • Ian discussed how events should continue to focus on using social media as a core element, enlarging the community past just those that attended.
  • Lords Andrew Cock-Starkey talked about how they have developed a large following for their Twitter feed, using it for continuous commentary on matches and a channel for last minute tickets (which can then be tracked back using offer codes to get quantifiable value).
  • There was lively discussion on managing the ‘negative’ aspects of social media too, engaging with, rather than ignoring those who are complaining.
  • Many of the panel thought the key technologies of the future would be live streaming content to those not at the event and ensuring that those attending can access online resources.
The Gathering taking place at Lords Media Centre

The Gathering taking place at Lords Media Centre

Event Vision – Tom McInerney chaired a discussion between Dan Craig, Loudsounds and Dale Barnes from Virgin Media focused on the key technology elements events will be focused on in the future.

  • Dale talked about how as a major brand when he is asked to deliver services in temporary events locations it really helps to have a technology person to engage with and discuss practicalities. The requirements from sponsors will only become greater as events continue to look for ‘partners’ who can contribute to the event not just push product X.
  • The panel discussed how events which take place at the same locations year after year will become more focused on what investments can be made. Not just in terms of water and power but also internet presentation. In many cases arranging service over multiple years can generate significant savings.
  • Dan discussed how events are continuing to invest in backend systems to simplify event management but also share data quickly with suppliers so everyone has up to date information. Tools like Dropbox and Google documents were sighted as invaluable but increase the pressure on IT systems at events.

Applications – Joanna Wales from Ascot Racecourse, Adrian Strahan and Chris Green discussed the key elements to a successful application and the challenges which still surround creating an app which gains traction within what is becoming an increasingly crowded market.

  • The panel shared their experience of working applications released by several large customers, and that by working within the businesses to find the different things the application could deliver was critical to its success.
  • Chris discussed the issues of delivering a ‘cross platform’ application (i.e. one which works across Android, Apple, Microsoft and Blackberry) this continues to be a challenge however planning for a multiple release during the design and creation process can avoid painful re-working later on.
  • The panel discussed the Edinburgh Fringe application as a great example of an application that was really useful and improves the event experience.
  • Many of the audience thought that applications should be free for events, since trying to charge generally puts off those that might find it valuable. Some discussions identified that a good app will encourage more people to attend and get more out of the event.

Real World Experience – Chris Green, Mike Lang and Tom McInerney fielded questions from the audience and discussed how some of the customers they partner with had developed an on-going technology strategy encompassing many of the topics that had come up during the day.

  • Several questions from the audience focused on how smaller events can take advantage of technology without huge investments. Chris discussed how many technology services can be delivered for growing events – the key is to ensure enough lead time as solutions which have to be delivered in a rush tend to more expensive. There is also opportunity to share some of the costs of connectivity between events that use the same locations.

In summary a fantastic day to network, meet new contacts and learn. We hope to run The Gathering again and are really excited about developing the forum and taking on the feedback from the attendees.

The Event Production Show 2011

Having spent a couple of days last week at the Event Production Show talking to existing and potential customers it’s interesting to note down some of the common themes we are hearing and challenges people are facing around technology.

Underpinning many of the discussions I had was an increased focus on the importance of event connectivity. It has moved from a nice to have, through must have, to critical as more and more services rely on it. With that more organisers now understand some of the challenges in terms of capacity and performance and, for example, weaknesses such as ‘upload’ performance on ADSL and the problem with latency on satellite, which renders VPN and VoIP services nearly unusable. We are not locked to a single provider or service and can offer everything from BT lines through to satellite, WiMAX and fibre, depending on requirements, budget and time.  Understanding what capacity is really required is a critical step in the process.

The cost of connectivity remains a concern but there are a few ways to keep cost under control, firstly book early! The shorter the notice the less options there are, and at short notice services often need to be expedited leading to significant extra charges. Secondly consolidate, reduce the number of lines by using VoIP and use a proper managed network to share and control bandwidth effectively. Lastly look at longer term options – if you are going to be using the same site for several years it is often cheaper to install permanent connectivity rather than temporary services as the main cost is the installation, with the annual rental often much lower than the cost of reinstalling each year. We now do this for a number of customers and manage all the technical and paperwork aspects so that the service is available when needed.

Another common comment was ‘we tried to use 3G but it was a disaster’. Running event connectivity on 3G is a highly risky strategy, at best it is likely to give poor and intermittent performance and more commonly during an event it is completely unusable, even when additional mobile towers have been placed on site. If an event needs connectivity then it needs managed connectivity, not ‘cross your fingers and hope’. The difference in cost between using a 3G approach and a basic professional set-up is not as large as people often think and there are many benefits.

Over the last couple of years the interest in site-wide attendee Wi-Fi has increased significantly and that trend continued this year. Alongside the general desire to allow people to stay connected the other big driver is the use of smartphone apps. Providing an application at an event with no additional connectivity generally results in unfavourable reviews as the performance is poor. The good news is that in many cases extending Wi-Fi internet coverage to the public is not as big a problem as it may seem, provided it is done correctly using appropriate hardware and managed networks with features such as traffic shaping. There are various models for cost recovery including ‘hotspot’ type charging or advertising and branding.

Integration of services is another key issue with production, ticketing, merchandise, bars and catering, security, etc. all having their own specific needs. Bringing all this together successfully requires experience and extensive IT knowledge. Making sure everyone is talking and sharing requirements is part of the service we provide so that you do not need to worry about the fact that the ticketing company require an onsite SQL database and a site-to-site VPN connection to a hosting centre you have never heard of!

Event IT is it’s own specialist area, you wouldn’t dream of letting any old person run your sound system, provide power, operate ticketing or put up marquees, and the same is true of event IT if want a dependable service which meets your needs.

The Etherlive stand saw a steady stream of enquiries for dependable event IT services