A flick of the wrist: RFID wristbands for exhibitions

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Most of us have been subjected to a prolonged wait to enter a live festival with our paper ticket, or queued for what seems like an age to buy food and drinks at an outdoor festival stall. New technology based on personalised wristbands is looking to change all that and improve our live experience. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands, which have emerged at festivals over the last couple of years, contain an embedded microchip which uses short-range radio frequencies to send and receive information to and from another electronic reader or device. Wristband manufacturer ID&C is now supplying RFID-enabled wristbands to a range of festivals across the US and UK. ID&C director Steve Daly said the technology is being deployed for three main functions: Access control, social media integration and more recently, cashless payments. He claimed RFID offers a fast and easy way for visitors to interact with services while at an event, improving their overall experience while streamlining operational efficiencies for organisers. In the UK, festivals such as Wakestock and a Red Hot Chili Peppers live show at Knebworth House have used the technology to grant access, alongside major US festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits. According to Wakestock organiser Stuart Galbraith, a major benefit of RFID wristbands is knowing how many people are onsite at any one time. But all agree we’re just starting to explore their potential.Social media connectivity One of the most innovative ways RFID wristbands can be used is for connecting event goers to their online personae in real-time. At the Coachella, Bonnaroo and Wakestock festivals for example, attendees were able to post content while onsite to their social media profile pages, update their Facebook status and tag items they like or want to share. RFID provider Intellitix launched 18 months ago and delivers wristband access control and cashless payment systems for live events. The company activated more than one million RFID tags in 2011. Chief information officer Greg Parmley said this year’s focus is on getting individuals to register their wristbands in advance of events for social media interaction. The power of RFID wristbands in extending an event’s reach outside its physical borders is significant, he claimed. At the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee in June, 74,000 of the 80,000 attendees registered their RFID wristbands, generating an estimated 200 million page views via live-click access points around the site. On top of this, there were 200,000 live clicks and 20,000 photos posted online over the weekend. “It’s about bridging the online world with the digital one,” Parmley said. Contactless payment is the latest emerging application for RFID wristbands at live events.Following a trial with 500 people in 2011, this year’s Isle of Wight Festival organiser Solo rolled out pre-loaded, RFID-based payment bands to more than 10,000 festival-goers. In this instance, activated wristbands were linked to a person’s debit or credit card, and top-up points were provided around the site. This year’s Wireless festival in London also offered cashless payment wristbands to ticket-holders in addition to access control and social media integration. In both cases, attendees could make a single transaction of up to £20. “Other festivals such as Hungary’s Sziget and Rhythm and Vines in New Zealand have been successfully using the technology for contactless payments for a few years now,” Daly continued. “It is important to note all applications can run on the same platform using the same wristband. The more applications you use, the more economical the deployment.” For organisers, a major benefit is receiving real-time statistics detailing how many people are in each designated area of the site at any time. “This helps manage crowd control and enhances the security of the event,” Daly said.
“RFID technology is ideal for an exhibition environment, or at any event where customer relationships, outreach and sales leads are sought.” Stumbling blocks Initial concerns around RFID wristbands have centred on the cost of rolling it out to thousands of visitors, as well as security and a general lack of understanding of how it works. In response, Daly claimed deployment costs are becoming more reasonable every year, and pointed out sponsorship could offset the additional charge on an organiser’s pocket. “Commercially, RFID gives organisers new sponsorship streams, where brands can connect with crowds of like-minded consumers using their RFID wristband as the intermediary,” he said. “Social media connectivity, gaming and instant-win competitions can all be carried out with the same wristband customers use to enter the event. Being an automated system, RFID platforms also give organisers the opportunity to make savings on their operational expenditure.” Parmley agreed it wasn’t about the cost of the technology, but about how much it can make an organiser. He claimed using cashless payment systems can raise the average spend per attendee by 20 per cent, offsetting the cost of deploying such technology. In addition, access control savings include removing overcrowding issues, ensuring everyone has a valid ticket, making entry more efficient, therefore cutting down staffing costs, and even improving catering costs by ensuring each meal is accounted for. “In addition, the brand engagement benefits offered by integrating this with social media are huge,” Parmley said. “Issuing an RFID wristband or pass to delegates/visitors creates a scenario where every exhibitor and seminar can directly interact with a guest, capturing their personal details for post-event marketing, creating real-time polls and questionnaires, and gaining social media connections where visitors can instantly like, tweet or use LinkedIn to connect to an exhibitor without the need for a wireless mobile device.” Daly also claimed the wristbands wipe out the chance of fraud when the RFID micro-chips are linked to an individual ticket-holder’s information, and ensure individuals can cancel their band if lost or stolen – much like the London Oyster card. And as consumers became more familiar with contactless technology in their everyday life, they will come to expect the same standard of service carried through to live events, Daly said. “Adopting new technology at a longstanding event could be a daunting prospect but neither you nor your visitors have to understand it to use it,” he added. “Not many people understand the operating system behind an iPhone, but they know how to use it. Seek out companies with a proven track record, ask questions, visit events already using the technology and then ask more questions.” For more traditional exhibitions, Parmley advised organisers to define what they need RFID technology to deliver. “An exhibition is more about people contacting each other, so you’re looking to box those connections between exhibitors and visitors, or generating real-time feedback for both,” he said. What’s clear is that RFID is an emerging technology with potential that is only starting to be uncorked. Providers expected things to change dramatically as event organisers explore its many uses. “We are really at the beginning of the process of using RFID creatively,” Parmley concluded.This was first published in the August 2012 edition of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net

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