WOMAD offers free public wi-fi to all attendeesThe topic of public or attendee Wi-Fi at events creates more churn and discussion than just about any other aspect in the technology arena. Organiser questions come thick and fast – Should we provide it? How should we charge for it? Will it work? Why does it cost so much? How many people will use it? The list goes on.

The approach to production, exhibitor and trader Wi-Fi is clear cut but for the public, opinion on approach, the need and value flip on a regular basis. This is not entirely surprising given the confusing and often incorrect messaging which swirls around the industry, accompanied by the fact that the topic is more complex than it initially looks.

If you are running an event in a location with little or no mobile coverage, then the desire to provide connectivity for attendees is well placed as there is an expectation in today’s world for ubiquitous connectivity and attendees will quickly rally round to complain if they are disconnected from the rest of the world.

Mobile 3G & 4G coverage at events is improving but outside of a select few the reality is the mobile networks are not designed to service the volume of users at large events which leads to sporadic or non-existent performance. Even if there is good mobile coverage the drive to provide a public Wi-Fi network may be down to different factors, not least by the fact that a dedicated network is in the control of the organiser providing opportunities to gather statistics, target advertising, monitor usage and offer interactive services.

How do I pay for it?

Monetising the provision is, however, a difficult area as directly charging for Wi-Fi access is not a good approach and sees very limited take-up. Users are offended by the idea that after paying to attend an event they are asked to pay extra for internet access which in their view is a utility and life-right, especially when in most scenarios Wi-Fi access is ‘free’. It may be accepted by an organiser that any provision is just an overhead cost, the value being in the good feedback and enhanced social media presence that such an offering provides but in most cases there is an expectation of some direct value or cost recovery.

The key point is not to focus on the Wi-Fi connection but to look beyond at what the connection delivers – that may be additional paid for content, sponsorship and advertising, attendee interaction, geo-fencing and location services, add on experiences which are sold through the network, payment systems or other value-add elements which may be more accepted as a paid-for offering.

What capacity do I need?

One of the hardest things about public Wi-Fi at events is predicting usage and capacity required. There are multiple vectors to this but historical data and experience provide a good starting point. The key aspect is the likely amount of concurrent users as this drives the high water mark for system capacity.

The first vector is the type of event, a music festival for example will typically see a lower concurrent usage percentage than a more business focused event such as an exhibition. This is driven by the immediacy of modern business working versus the more local experience of a festival, coupled with the need at a festival to conserve battery life such that Wi-Fi is turned off unless actually required. Interestingly though over the course of a multi-day festival a higher percentage of attendees will use the Wi-Fi at some point compared to a business focused exhibition. In our experience we would not expect concurrent usage at a festival to be more than 10-20%, whereas an exhibition may be closer to 30-40%.

The second vector is the duration of an event, crudely the shorter the event the higher the percentage of concurrent users. This dynamic is partly down to the battery life concern at multi-day events in contrast to the ‘in the moment’ social media nature of a short event that is likely to have a single focal point and may see concurrent usage rise above 50%

The last vector is the hardest to predict – the marketing and messaging from the event itself. A smartphone app, twitter walls, content, streaming, promotions and campaigns can all drive up usage significantly and need to be understood as part of the planning cycle. Public Wi-Fi providing a low key email and internet access service is very different to the launch of a new 150MB smartphone app with rich content that everyone needs to download in the first hour of an event!

Will it work? What will it cost?

This brings us to the technical aspect and the associated cost. The big factors are the coverage area, the user density and the internet backhaul required. High density Wi-Fi is a very different beast to normal Wi-Fi – it involves much more complex design with sector based antennas, high end Wi-Fi access points, very careful spectrum (radio) management and various networking approaches to ensure the system does not saturate and grind to a halt. In front of a crowded stage with 10,000 people it requires a lot of Wi-Fi magic to deliver an acceptable service.

Coverage area adds an additional non-linear cost increase, especially in a green-field environment, simply down to the practicalities of deployment and connecting the entire network together. A typical device such a smartphone will only work reasonably if it is within about 100m of a Wi-Fi access point so if you are trying to cover 200 acres that’s a lot of access points all of which need to be connected together and have a source of power.

Behind all of this there has to be suitable internet connectivity (backhaul), many deployments are let down by not having enough backhaul or by having the wrong type. Some methods of internet connectivity are just not suited to a public Wi-Fi deployment where there may be thousands of users all chatting away simultaneously.

This all may seem a little overwhelming but it shouldn’t be, a well-planned and thought through deployment can be very successful but it needs to be a larger discussion than just the practicalities of making it work, including those who lead areas such as marketing and sponsorship. The demands on connectivity at events will only continue to increase and the best way to service that need is a clear approach around public Wi-Fi which forms part of the overall event strategy rather than as a costly bolt on.

No Wi-Fi HereAnother week, another big event, another twitter stream full of complaints about Wi-Fi. Rightly or wrongly Wi-Fi is touted above food, toilets, queuing, decoration and just about everything else as being critical to an event. It’s been the same for several years now with seemingly little progress, how can that be the case?

The first response is typically to blame the technology and there are certainly plenty of cases where poor designs and implementations are part of the problem. Building an effective, reliable and performing wired and wireless network is complex but not impossible. These days the main issues tend to lie elsewhere.

The first issue is cost. Delivering a true high capacity, high density network requires significant investment with a large chunk of the cost down to the internet bandwidth required. The price of low quality consumer bandwidth like ADSL and FTTC may be at an all time low but high capacity business quality fibre circuits are still very expensive, especially for short term use. The usage patterns of the attendees have also changed over the last few years with current demand as much about upload as download which, coupled with richer content, all continue to drive demand for more bandwidth.

You can provide the best Wi-Fi on the planet but if it isn’t backed up by the appropriate internet bandwidth then users will have a poor experience. There is no magic here, if you want 10,000 users to have a good experience you need multiple high capacity business grade links, yet most organisers see the cost of this bandwidth as top of the list for cutting, well above other items which ironically users complain far less about.

The second problem is particularly significant in the exhibition and conference areas – rogue Wi-Fi. The Achilles heal of Wi-Fi is its unlicensed nature, which on one hand has allowed Wi-Fi to become pervasive across the globe rapidly but on the other hand is slowly killing it. Wi-Fi currently operates at two relatively narrow frequency bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. These two bands are divided into a number of channels which are shared by all Wi-Fi (and some other) devices. The problem is there are not enough channels available, especially at 2.4GHz so in a high density environment managing the channels which are available is critical to success. That in itself is hard enough but now add in all the exhibitors who have brought in their own Wi-Fi access points, then all the Mi-Fi devices and to top it off all the Bluetooth noise (which also operates at 2.4GHz) and you end up with a large conference hall with thousands of devices all shouting at each other to the point no one can be heard because it is just a mass of interference.

The idea that all of these devices can share the wireless spectrum effectively is simply not true in a dense environment. To make matters worse it’s a vicious circle – the more often an attendee or exhibitor has a bad experience the more likely they are to bring their own device next time further adding to the problem. Even worse is that every new Mi-Fi device has a little more power and those with their own Wi-Fi think more power and more access points will make things better raising the interference and noise further.

Those who work in this area have known for some time that 2.4GHz as a client access frequency at an event was a lost cause and the only hope was to move people to 5GHz as laptops, tablets and smartphones increasingly supported it. The extra channel capacity at 5GHz, no Bluetooth interference and fewer 5GHz Mi-Fi devices made for ‘cleaner’ air, unfortunately that is rapidly changing and soon 5GHz will be as crowded as 2.4GHz.

There are only a couple of solutions to this problem, the first is long term and probably unlikely. Wi-Fi needs more spectrum and there are various discussions and proposals for increasing the spectrum available but it also needs to be managed – separating consumer type devices away from lightly licensed professional frequencies so that each has its own space. This will not happen quickly and would take many years to trickle down through devices but it could be the long term nirvana to truly offer a reliable Wi-Fi service.

The second solution is not really technical at all, it just requires event organisers to listen to and take seriously what event IT companies have been saying for years – the Wi-Fi spectrum at events must be managed. In the broadcast arena spectrum management has been taken seriously for years and it works very well. If we want event Wi-Fi to work then the same approach must be used. That means taking a hard line when an exhibitor wants to use their own device – it has to be pre-approved with specific parameters or rejected, and the agreement has to be enforced. No more rogue Wi-Fi it ruins experience for everyone.

This is easy to say, it requires trust that an official provider is going to deliver a good service and I appreciate it is hard to enforce requiring support from all levels but it can be done (we have examples) and the difference it makes is considerable and everyone gets a working service. It doesn’t fix everything but unless something is done across the industry to support this approach then paying money out for Wi-Fi is pointless and frustrates users more than if there was no Wi-Fi at all.

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?

Article recently published by Event Magazine profiling Hannah Wood.

Hannah Wood, connectivity, supplier and site manager at Etherlive, shared her career story with Event for the Women in Events campaign. She talked about working in a diverse role, how she ended up working for an event technology company and how a quad bike featured in one of her past interviews.

What do you do and how long have you been in your current role?

I have been at Etherlive for a year, following my role at an experiential marketing agency. At Etherlive I am in charge of ordering and managing the installation and maintenance of all of our internet connectivity and telephony services; account managing our major suppliers including connectivity, recruitment, vehicles and equipment hire; and I will also be taking on management responsibility for our pool of freelance site managers and managing some event sites myself.

This is the most diverse role I have worked in and I am lucky enough to be involved in many areas of the business, from the ordering process to the financial reconciliation to the implementation of our technology services on-site at events.

Where was your first job? What was the most important thing you learnt there?

In 2009 I moved to London and began working for the Royal Society of Medicine as an assistant conference co-ordinator and quickly moved up to being the external societies co-ordinator, responsible for all conferences and meetings for a particular society. This was a venue-based role and included dealing with all departments of the society to plan and manage the events as well as close contact with the client and conference delegates.

I learnt a lot here about dealing with many different types of people and how to deal with pressurised situations where there are multiple stakeholders.

Event's latest Women in Events profile with Etherlive's Hannah Wood

Event’s latest Women in Events profile with Etherlive’s Hannah Wood

How did you get from there to where you are now?

Over the next three years I worked at Imperial College London in the role of events co-ordinator for the university’s commercial services department, as an events manager at an agency providing the catering, bars and theming for weddings and corporate events and at an experiential marketing agency managing a promotional staffing team at events across the UK.

In each role I honed my skills and I got to attend events including V Festival, Rockness, Moto GP, Festival No. 6, Lounge on the Farm, Brownstock and many more. This, together with my experience at university where I made sure I improved my knowledge working in events at the student union, gave me a solid foundation for the future.

Looking back, did you expect your career path to take the course it has?

No, I originally thought I would go in the direction of conferences and work with specific exhibitors and clients on stands and contents rather than working on the organisation and management of full-scale events. I also never thought I would end up working for a technology company but I’m glad I do, it has given me even more insight to the workings of events and my previous experience on the non-tech side helps when working with other contractors and clients.

Would you do anything differently?

I would have invested my time in a lot more work experience. The events industry can be difficult to get into if you want to make a career out of it and any experience you have is highly valuable. It’s taken me a long time (and a few not so nice jobs) to get where I am today.

Who has inspired you along the way?

I take inspiration from anyone I can learn from. I work with a number of people who have been in the industry for a long time or who have worked in really interesting areas and I don’t think there’s ever a day when I don’t get taught something new, whether it’s new event knowledge or a bit more information about some sort of technology we use.

Have you ever had a job interview that went particularly well or spectacularly wrong?

I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview that sticks out as being fantastic or awful, but I have had some interesting ones. I ran a bar at a farm show as part of one of my interviews, which was great fun, and I got to drive a quad bike on another interview.

Is there a piece of career advice you’ve ever been told that has stuck with you?

You will never know everything. Don’t think that you do or you might end up looking very silly.

What career advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Change your university course, this one isn’t going to take you anywhere you can’t already go.

How do you wind down and relax after a hectic day?

I go to kick-boxing training.

Article published from Republished from http://www.eventmagazine.co.uk/People/article/1303744/how-i-hannah-wood/

It has been said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. If you said the same about technology it would read ‘confusing acronyms and over hyped performance claims’. Although 802.11ac, the latest in a long line of Wi-Fi standards, has been in development for several years it was finally approved in January and more client devices are now appearing which support it, including the Samsung Galaxy S4, newer iPads and the rumoured iPhone 6.

802-11-ac-logo

The ever growing list of Wi-Fi standards

Claiming speeds of 433Mbps up to 6.77Gbps, multi user MIMO and beamforming it would sound like we should all be rushing to implement this technology as soon as we can to solve our Wi-Fi woes. For the home user a shiny new 11ac Wi-Fi router and compatible tablet may indeed offer some benefits but if you look at the limiting performance factor in most households it is the broadband connection itself and not the Wi-Fi which throttles everything to a crawl.

For those of us deploying large scale, high density Wi-Fi, particularly at events and stadiums, the potential impact of 11ac is far more important and if not considered carefully could easily reduce performance rather than improve it. There are many enhancements and extensions within 11ac and as before with 11n it will take time for all the features to be implemented and used effectively.

One of the big changes is with MIMO or Multiple Input Multiple Output streams. MIMO is like moving from a single carriageway road to a dual carriageway or motorway – the data travels from your device to the Wi-Fi access point using multiple paths. Most business quality Wi-Fi access points have supported MIMO since 802.11n but many handheld devices have only just started to implement it. It can provide better overall speed and improve coverage especially where there are lots of obstacles. 11ac allows for up to 8 streams, whereas 11n is limited to 3, however, in reality most devices will not implement more than 3 and in fact most handheld devices will be limited to 1 or 2 because of the cost, complexity and extra power drain of adding more streams.

Those extra streams are not necessarily lost though as 11ac will eventually offer multi-user MIMO where different streams can be directed to different clients providing a much needed boost in situations such as events where the pinch point is the number of connected devices rather than absolute speed. Unfortunately version 1 of 11ac does not support multi-use MIMO so we will have to wait another year or two for that.

Beamforming is another aspect which 11ac requires, a technology which aims to optimise performance based on the direction of signals and provide a higher interference rejection. Beamforming is already supported in 11n and, when combined with adaptive antenna arrays, is very powerful in ‘noisy’ environments like event sites, however, many wireless vendors do not implement it so 11ac aims to standardise beamforming across clients and vendors, which over time will provide performance improvements.

So far it all sounds good so what is the problem? To answer that we need to look at why we have a problem today. Wi-Fi is a shared medium, a Wi-Fi ‘access point’ has to simultaneously talk to a number of client devices and split the available capacity between all the devices it is talking to. For example an 11n wireless access point (without MIMO) can at best deliver 150Mbps of capacity, if there are 100 users connected to it then each user would see a maximum speed of 1.5Mbps. This is absolute best case, real world would be far, far lower.

To add more capacity more wireless access points are used but they all need their own ‘space’ to operate in otherwise they would just interfere with each other like a room full of people shouting. To do this there are a number of standard ‘channels’ defined and each Wi-Fi access point is assigned a channel. The most common form of Wi-Fi today runs at 2.4GHz which has 14 channels but these channels overlap and not all of them are usable in all countries, in fact there are really only 3 usable channels when it comes to designs for large scale deployments. On top of this 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi has to contend with Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, microwave ovens and a whole host of other things which also use the same frequency range!

At home where there are likely to be only a few devices connecting to the Wi-Fi network these issues are not generally a great concern but on an event site where hundreds, or now more typically thousands of users have to be connected simultaneously the combination of the lack of capacity and interference creates a huge problem.

All is not lost though as there is a second Wi-Fi frequency range at 5GHz which offers 23 non-overlapping channels (although that is before you factor in indoor, outdoor, DFS and country restrictions) and much lower interference. Today most of the wireless backbone infrastructure on event sites uses 5GHz – this includes normal data transmission, CCTV cameras and other wireless devices such as video senders. There are enough channels to do this successfully provided it is all managed carefully.

Until recently most client devices did not support 5GHz but now many do meaning that client access can also be provided at 5GHz avoiding the problems of 2.4GHz. The downside of this though is that 5GHz is no longer the quiet frequency it used to be with many domestic Wi-Fi routers supporting it and permanent wireless links using it, all of which increases interference and limits available free channels. 11ac however could make things far worse.

Whereas 802.11n was a standard for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, 802.11ac is a 5GHz only standard which means we will see an acceleration in the adoption of 5GHz in all devices. This in itself is not a bad thing but it will change the dynamics of Wi-Fi deployments with more and more focus on 5GHz client access leading to less room for 5GHz backhaul. The likely result is that backhaul will have to move to licenced frequencies or higher unlicensed frequencies such as 24, 60 or 80GHz but there are cost and implementation considerations.

The second problem is that 11ac focusses on delivering more speed but one of the ways it does this is by using a wider channel in which to send data and this is implemented by in effect ‘bonding’ channels reducing the number of independent channels available. 11n can already bond two channels but 11ac can bond four which could reduce the available channels by 75% leading to interference issues.

All of these factors are configurable and manageable and the design for a large event site will be considerably different to say an office environment but for everything to work in harmony there will need to be an even greater focus on ‘spectrum management’ ensuring that all parties using wireless equipment do so in a controlled and agreed manner. Without this structure and control the user experience will deteriorate rather than improve. 11ac can bring benefits, albeit without the headline speed claims, but there are greater risks in terms of poor design.

We will be starting to deploy some 11ac access points in a controlled manner over the coming months, working closely with vendors to optimise designs for the challenging needs of event sites.

Achilles was an all-powerful god with one deadly weakness in spite of his overall strength. As a baby Achilles was dipped into the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, by Thetis. When Thetis dipped the young Achilles into the river he held him by his heel and thus that part was not washed and become his weak point. The rest, which includes a poison arrow and a good shot, is history

The story from ancient Greece reminds us that everything has a weak point and with wireless technology its interference. Without acknowledging or managing interference the most expensive, well designed event wireless network will become useless.

In a recent industry forum interference became a topic with generated lots of questions so we have put together a brief list of some key considerations to ensure the wireless network at your event doesn’t suffer.

1. Manage expectations and set formal guidelines

Delegates and exhibitors should be informed in advance that any personal equipment will be subject to certain guidelines to prevent interference with the in-house Wi-Fi. It is recommended users are requested to sign a simple pre-registration form containing the guidelines prior to the event. Have technical resource or partner on hand should any exhibitor wish to ask questions.

2. Use a technology partner to scan the airwaves

Once guidelines have been set, wireless scanners can be used by on-site technology experts to ensure the agreements are being followed and to locate equipment causing interference. It’s not just other Wi-Fi devices that can be a problem – DECT phones, Bluetooth, alarms, telemetry systems and even industrial microwaves can all be sources of interference.

3. Manage other suppliers

Any wireless networks used by other suppliers should be taken into account during the early stages of Wi-Fi negotiations; wireless networks may be of equipment used by AV companies for example, so it is worthwhile engaging to pre-determine any possible interference and pre-assign channels so systems can coexist.

4. Get skilled up

Ensuring that the team running the event have access to technical resources or an on-site technology partner are essential in enabling an organiser to address any interference affecting delegates during the event.

Everything has an Achilles Heel

5. Put in place a back-up plan

If local interference cannot be eliminated, there should be a back-up plan to minimise the impact i.e. the installation of some hard-wire cables which delegates and exhibitors can use. Whilst wireless offers freedom, many venues suggest that those requiring a ‘guaranteed’ service should consider a backup wired connection assuming the device supports this.

6. Make the necessary pre-event considerations

Check the venue before choosing it in order to identify any potential problems; a good question to ask in the first instance is whether the in-house network can be turned off if it is not required for the event reducing interference.

7. Know your frequencies

Interference can often occur as a result of too many technologies crowding the same frequency channel;. A way of counteracting this is to advise those requiring a larger wireless range to use a 5GHz network, which can offer more transmission channels than the overused 2.4GHz. More and more devices now support 5GHz including a number of the current range of smartphones.

8. Use the right equipment

Domestic Wi-Fi equipment and even lower cost so called business equipment does not have the more advanced antennas and management to deal with interference effectively. Higher end professional equipment can automatically work around interference and deliver a much stronger & higher quality connection even when interference is present.

There is one thing that can challenge even the best designed wireless networks; interference. That is, the transmission of competing networks attempting to broadcast at the same time on the same frequency. At the risk of turning this blog into to a science paper we’ll keep it light, but it is interesting to note that we have been in several meetings over the past few weeks where the delivery of Wi-Fi networks has been challenging due to the amount of interference.

As venues and events deploy wireless networks that become ever more critical to delegates, press, production and exhibitors, interference is the elephant in the room. Managing rogue access points, or those using their own solutions is imperative in reducing interference, and ensuring that those who are trying to use Wi-Fi networks in the same place can do so.

Understanding the limitations

Wi-Fi technology is designed to communicate over a number of common frequencies. This allows smartphones, laptops and other client devices to know how to communicate with access points and each other. Within this frequency there are a defined number of channels, similar to the number of lanes on a motorway. The more channels or lanes you have, the more simultaneous networks you can have in operation. 2.4G Hz Wi-Fi networks have significantly less channels than 5GHz networks.

Spectrum Crusaders

The spectrum crusaders ride to their next rogue access point

Setting expectations

Just like expectations on stand power (i.e. would exhibitors expect to bring their own petrol generator into an indoor venue?), there should be guidelines for use of wireless technology. Those who do not follow the rules should appreciate that their equipment may be turned off since their configuration could potentially impact those around them trying to access and fully utilise the ‘in house’ Wi-Fi. This can be as simple as a form which is completed as part of the contract which asks a few simple questions about which channel their wireless equipment will be broadcasting from.

Watching the air & taking action

Once the expectations have been set, wireless scanners can be used to ensure the agreements are being followed and that those who are causing interference are located. In areas where others are complaining about service, it will be quickly evident who isn’t playing fair. This was carried out during the Olympics and was commonly accepted by exhibitors because the expectations had been set.

One wire to rule them all

Many venues would also suggest that exhibitors who need a ‘guaranteed’ service should have a wired connection and that is absolutely correct. In addition to interference, some wireless chips are better than others and some devices just have bad days, so if the device supports a cable and it’s practical to do so, then this is highly advised. However, as more and more demonstrations rely on tablet computers (especially with the new Microsoft Surface launch), wireless will be considered critical to some stands.

After seeing several tweets on the subject, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the blogs by Heidi Williams (original post) and ConnectEvents (original post) about the price and quality of wireless networks within the events industry.

Their points are exactly the types of discussions which have been going on in the AEO/AEV/ESSA Technical Committee since its inception. The same themes came out in the first brainstorm session; how can the industry deliver a ‘no cost’ experience to some whilst recouping the investment costs and on-going service? Should it deliver a no cost option? How do the suppliers within the industry educate customers about what they are getting and paying for?

The ConnectEvents blog highlights how they have been so disappointed with their experiences they have explored and successfully delivered their own solution by using Mi-Fi devices (we recommended them in our April article “Tips to keep running during the 2012 games”,  as a fantastic solution for teams on the road). By having a customer deploy this solution, the industry is seeing the results of poor communication and expectations which is resulting in a poorer solution for the end customer. Though ConnectEvents have had success with using several individual Mi-Fi units it is important to realise that this approach will actually exacerbate the issue by generating even more Wi-Fi interference within the hall. Increased interference will impact those still trying to join the ‘managed’ central network and so they in turn may switch to buying Mi-Fi devices which in turn will generate more interference which eventually means no one will be able to use any wireless (Mi-Fi or anything else) at all!

A further consideration is that whilst signal strength may be good in London from the Mi-Fi provider (3G providers such as Vodafone, 3UK etc), the actual amount of internet bandwidth behind that service will continue to decrease as more people use it. Outside of strong 3G signal areas, obviously service will be poor.

I recently gave a presentation at the HBAA Forum in Wembley and the comments from the audience echoed what Heidi and ConnectEvents are articulating – that we as suppliers and venues need to start with some simple steps:

Education – Customer need to understand what they are actually paying for; it is very frustrating to pay significant amounts of money for connectivity when most of us enjoy reasonable service at home for tens of pounds per month. Education is critical; customers appreciate why power charges at events are more than at home and that expectation is because power, i.e. the provision of generators, is relatively obvious (someone puts it close by and it rumbles away, engineers are around etc), so exhibitors can easily appreciate the elements.  Because IT tends to be smaller bits of kit behind the scenes, the perception is it’s either very simple or just complete black magic.

Bring differential services to market – Venues should be offering a free service to customers; perhaps it’s time limited and limited to the amount of connectivity speed available. For this, perhaps marketing information is captured? Or sponsor branding is viewed? With the right speed expectations, customers will at least appreciate other options are available. They can then be given a sell-up opportunity to buy time. Those who need service for critical elements, such as demonstrations, with engineers on call should expect to pay more.

We continue to work with the AEO/AEV/ESSA Technical Committee as to how best to approach these points from an industry perspective but in the meantime use our own blog and press relations to educate and encourage discussion on technology within the events industry.