Mike Piddock: Three vital Wi-Fi questions to ask your event venue

GlisserMike Piddock
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Glisser founder Mike Piddock shares the top three questions that event organisers should be asking about Wi-Fi at a venue.

 

I think we’ve finally accepted that Wi-Fi at venues is important. And not just the venues we use for our live events, but any building that people visit, whether it’s a coffee shop, client office or airport. It’s even led to a very 21st Century conundrum: just how long do you have to leave it to ask for someone’s home Wi-Fi password without seeming impolite?

 

Basically, we’re now a generation that values (and is even addicted to) connectivity – and a lack of it has been scientifically shown to create anxiety. So, as event organisers, you cannot simply ignore something that, if it is not done well, could create a negative reaction amongst delegates.

 

Yet for many of us, the technicalities of web connectivity are not something we’ve been taught. This creates a challenge but also a huge opportunity for event professionals willing to step up, increase their knowledge and show their worth.

To get you started, here are the three most critical things to ask them…

  1. What’s the throughput into the building, and how much of that is dedicated to us?

This is the collective ‘real world’ bandwidth available into the building – effectively the ‘size of the pipe’ going into the whole venue, which can then be shared by all the users within it – after accounting for technical things that might reduce the theoretical ‘maximum bandwidth’.

 

The bigger, the better – as there is more to go around. Big city venues are likely to be well catered for here but remote locations are likely to be more restricted.

 

It’s important to ask how much is ‘dedicated’ to the conference area and even your particular event, as this determines how much of the overall capacity is ring-fenced for your use. In a hotel, for example, the collective bandwidth will be shared with the hotel staff/operations teams and all the hotel room guests streaming bandwidth-heavy YouTube cat videos, meaning there may not be much left for your delegates to use.

 

As a rule of thumb, we suggest 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) of dedicated bandwidth is sufficient for around 100 delegates to do things like check email, tweet, or participate in audience interaction technology – basics these days really. Scale this up for your needs: 20 Mbps for 200 delegates, etc. plus a bit of extra headroom is always useful! We love it when venue IT teams start talking in Gigabits per second…

  1. How many access points do you have in the room or rooms we’re using, and how many simultaneous connections can they handle?

Once you’ve determined how much bandwidth your delegates (and your own teams) have to share, the next question is how everyone can connect to this. Here, access points (think Wi-Fi routers stuck to the ceilings) are important, and the number of connections they can make each is the second crucial factor.

 

So, for example, four access points in the room, each capable of connecting 50 devices, would allow 200 concurrent connections.

 

However, it’s not that simple. It’s also important to factor in the location of the access points, as people’s smart devices will try to connect to the nearest one, even if its connections have all been used up. Usually venues have set these up sensibly distributed around the room, but it’s always worth checking. Secondly, you need to factor in that many people are carrying (and using) more than one device – so allow for plenty of headroom.

 

Finally, don’t forget that wired internet connections are really useful for presentation laptops, particularly where video or live voting is involved. Make sure the connection is live, and near the presentation laptop or AV desk.

  1. What’s your Wi-Fi log-in process, and do you automatically log-out inactive users?

So your throughput is plentiful and you’ve got more than enough access points to connect every delegate’s three devices. All sorted, right? Well, nearly…

 

One final consideration that’s worth bearing in mind for a great delegate experience is the process for logging into the Wi-Fi, as well as the way it’s set up to log out.

 

Many venues use a splash screen to collect user information, password protect their Wi-Fi, and push advertising to users. This is often more cumbersome or confusing than entering a simple password when selecting the Wi-Fi network, so if you can you should ask for this to be disabled for your event.

 

Venues that are really well set up for large events will be able to offer a separate conference Wi-Fi network which can be tailored to your needs, rather than lumping your guests in with everyone else in the vicinity. The golden rule is, make it as easy as possible for delegates to gain access to connectivity – minimise keystrokes and maximise simplicity.

 

The final thing to ask the venue is whether they automatically log people out of their network access after a period of inactivity. We’ve all been there – spending ages logging on through a myriad of data capture fields, only to be bumped out of the system because we hadn’t used it for ten minutes. It’s so frustrating.

 

Bottom line– get this switched off. It’s massively annoying for users, who often think they have connectivity but don’t really as they’ve been ejected. It doesn’t help you as an event organiser looking to keep people connected and interactive.

 

A final thought

 

Internet connectivity is vitally important for people generally, in all walks of life, not just when they attend live events. The challenge event organisers have is lots of people in one place at the same time, with multiple devices, competing for bandwidth, and with increasingly high expectations.

 

Meeting these expectations is now very much part of the event planner role, supported by the very best IT people at the very best venues. Understanding the questions to ask and the answers you need is critical, but by following the right process (just like you would in any other element of the event) you can stay in control and deliver a high quality audience experience.

Nicola Macdonald
Posted by Nicola Macdonald
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