Venue watch: getting connected

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Business Design Centre The Business Design Centre’s (BDC) space allows a flexible distribution of stands and organisers and exhibitors alike should have the ability to request services wherever they are needed, according to BDC conference manager Kate Simpson. “Internet is one of the most popular facilities with most visitors and delegates now expecting it as standard,” she said. “For this reason in 2011 the BDC became the first London venue to offer a free visitor open zone allowing visitors to check emails and browse sites free of charge.” The BDC has upgraded options available to organisers such as individual wired connections and dedicated openzones. “The services do come at varying costs, however, they are supported and maintained by an onsite team of experts who are available throughout an event’s tenancy,” said Simpson.The venue’s access is now fed by a 1GB fibre optic cable provided by Virgin Media and is distributed through a Cisco network. “The network is made up of over 50 access points and was upgraded in 2011 in response to the changing nature of our event calendar,” Simpson added. “The inhouse team Granite Consulting is the main contact between organisers and exhibitors and is on hand to respond to any queries on site.” The BDC thinks the industry can sustain an element of free connectivity. But those who require high bandwidth connections and serviced areas of connectivity should expect charges but BDC insists they are getting what they pay for. “It’s easy enough to say that organisers want the Internet for free, but in the cases of a lot of the shows that do pay for the upgraded connectivity, this is not the case,” said Simpson. “Many of these organisers will know that their exhibitors assume a high-speed connection is available to them and for the shows where this really counts the organisers are happy to take on the cost.” Excel LondonExcel’s executive director Jeremy Rees said the venue has the belief that it should provide the best Wi-Fi solution to enable its customers to trade. But there is no straightforward solution. “Wi-Fi forms part of our overarching digital strategy where customers are being more demanding about their technology requirements for their events,” he said. “It is seen to be a commodity by our guests.  We are 4G enabled and were one of the first venues to offer free Wi-Fi to our visitors in public areas such as the boulevard, when we launched it 18 months ago and it has been very successful.” At Christmas the venue invested in new Wi-Fi technology – Ruckus. “Ruckus is able to provide consistent, reliable connectivity with its BeamFlex Adaptive Antenna system that outperforms every other wireless manufacturer, as well as a safer environment with better management of interference.  “This means that we can offer our clients the most technologically advanced and dynamic environment for them to do business.  This is being driven by a large number of technology focused events – be them proprietary such as those by Citrix, Cisco or Panasonic, through to world leading technology exhibitions that are hosting or looking to move their events to Excel. Rees said the venue is currently assessing the right route to go down, with technology changing at such a fast pace. It is determining whether providing free Wi-Fi access is the right solution for the best experience.  “Experience is of huge importance to Excel and so we need to ensure that we offer the best solution to deliver this,” said Rees.  “There are two audiences that we need to consider; the visitor, who wants to be able to access social media and their emails; and exhibitors, who want a guaranteed, resilient and secure service.  “We already provide the visitor with the right experience but the exhibitor experience is one that needs a more detailed strategy and we will deliver this in consultation with our clients.” ACC LiverpoolThe ACC Liverpool has introduced free basic Wi-Fi in the Arena and Convention Centre, provided by BT. The venue is currently scoping a project which will provide greater total bandwidth and new access points providing better coverage and faster performance.  The venue has created different packages so that clients may be able to generate sponsorship income from upgraded Wi-Fi capabilities, and was introduced in response to client feedback.“The upgrades will reduce our power consumption somewhat, thus showing our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility,” said Tom Lechthaler, head of events at ACC Liverpool. “At the moment we can offer 2,000 concurrent connections for users with a single device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop being spread all around the building, rather than in one place. Once we’ve completed our upgrade we will be able to offer between 750 and 1,000 connections all in one space. “We are currently planning enhanced Cisco switching infrastructure to support 10GB connectivity across our site. Wi-Fi connectivity will be delivered using the current 802.11n speeds provided via the latest clean air Cisco 3602 router access points.” Lechthaler thinks the demands of the consumer are dictating the direction of the exhibition industry. “We now have an ‘always switched on’ generation who require access to the internet on multiple devices,” he said. “This presents a significant challenge to the industry and will require continuous investment to meet those challenges.  Some organisations will be unable to continue investment whilst others like us will continue to invest in existing and future technologies which enable our customers to stay connected.”The NECThe NEC will provide free Wi-Fi coverage across the venue for visitors from February 2013. The technology system supplied by Xirrus, which will offer blanket Wi-Fi coverage throughout the venue including all halls and public areas, has been installed to ensure The NEC goes beyond delivering a technical solution alone. “Fast and convenient communications are now essential to businesses and individuals and the expectation to have Wi-Fi provision in any large venue is now significant,” said NEC managing director Kathryn James. “The NEC is committed to delivering a market-leading level of service, answering the changing needs of organisers, exhibitors and visitors. “Organisers want to make their shows as accessible as possible so that visitors and exhibitors can connect to a variety of portable devices when they’re at an event, maintaining office contact when they’re working remotely, and keeping the consumer visitor connected to their social networks.” The NEC approach was born out of initial research and through working in close consultation with the AEO, AEV and ESSA’s Cross-Association Connectivity Working Group. A client Wi-Fi forum was subsequently hosted by The NEC in October 2012 to communicate this information and to help shape the Wi-Fi offering to optimise benefits for organisers and their customers. “The NEC is fully aware of the challenges of Wi-Fi provision throughout the exhibitions industry and in any large space where numerous visitors and potentially heavy-bandwidth users seek to go online simultaneously,” said James. “Due to changes in hall layouts and the seasonal flow of visitors, coupled with the interference from unauthorised access points, the Cross Association Connectivity Working Group has acknowledged that there is no ‘golden bullet’ that provides the perfect answer, but The NEC is committed to the best possible solution.” Manchester Central Last month, Manchester Central became the first major venue in the UK to offer free Wi-Fi to all its clients, exhibitors and visitors.  The venue’s chief executive Angie Robinson said the move is to ensure the venue has the ability to meet and even go beyond, the needs of clients to ensure their events are a success. “We now live in a connected world and exhibitions are very much taking advantage of this. They are becoming more interactive and techno-friendly,” said Robinson. “Exhibition organisers rightly expect venues to be able to cater for that. As a consumer you can now walk into a coffee shop, train station or hotel and access free Wi-Fi. Good, free internet has become the norm for many quality businesses that pride themselves on customer service. That is why we made the decision to make sure we are offering free hi-speed Wi-Fi to all visiting Manchester Central, excluding a small cost for hardwire connections. We believe the opportunity to significantly improve our customers’ experience outweighs any gain to be had from additional revenue received through charging for Wi-Fi.” Metronet is the venue’s internet service provider, while Air Angel worked on portal page and access points. The key technical aspects of the free Wi-Fi are: All visitors to the venue get free access to five mega bytes per second Wi-Fi; the free Wi-Fi is available across the whole building; hardwire connections will be the only element paid for by exhibitors; a simple portal page will quickly connect exhibitors and visitors to the free Wi-Fi. “We will continue to look at new and innovative ways of providing a best-in-class offer to our clients, exhibitors and visitors,” said Robinson. “Recently we became one of the first major venues in the UK to achieve the international standard for sustainability – ISO 20121. Our clients are our partners. In the past venues have often been perceived as being merely the landlord of an exhibition. This is history. It is completely in the interest of both the exhibition organiser and the venue to ensure the success of the event and to work together to achieve this.” This was first published in the February edition of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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