Written by MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, CHE and Charles Massey, CMP
When hosting a meeting or event for any size group, a commonly heard complaint is, “Why can’t I get ‘free Internet’ in my room AND in the meeting space?” Planners equipped with the knowledge of how to incorporate High-Speed Internet Access (HSIA) into their events know the right questions to ask, how to determine what the actual cost will be for securing adequate bandwidth, and how that cost will be covered. Free may be what everyone wants, but is free what is needed for the meeting or event?
There are ten primary questions or information areas the planner must research prior to determining whether ‘free’ will work for a meeting or event.
#1. What Is The Demand?
The number of participants and their expected use of the Internet, including the number of devices they bring to the meeting or event determine demand. Expected use can be low (email and simple Web surfing), medium (Web applications and streaming audio), or high (instructor-led Web training, large file transfers, standard definition (SD) video stream). PSAV has produced a “Bandwidth Estimator” as a service to the industry. Access this tool on the Convention Industry Council’s website at http://www.conventionindustry.org/StandardsPractices/APEX/bandwidthconnectivity/bwidthestimator.aspx. Know how many devices will be in use, with devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Bluetooth keyboards for tablets.
#2. What Are Your Presenter Requirements?
Will your meeting or event feature a keynote speaker or multiple presenters? Is there a need for the Internet for speaker presentations (live demos, application training, or remote collaboration)? What bandwidth will presenters require (low, medium, or high).
#3. Shared or Dedicated Bandwidth – What Do You Need?
Shared bandwidth is fine for casual use and nonevent-critical needs. Dedicated bandwidth is highly recommended for presenters, critical event needs (such as at the registration desk), and large events. Many uninformed planners have experienced “horror stories” when they have used shared bandwidth for their onsite Internet based registration system, causing the entire system to crash just as registration opens.
#4. What Should Be Shared/Dedicated?
Have you ever sat at an airline’s departure gate and heard these words: “Ladies and gentlemen, this flight may be oversold and we are looking for volunteers to . . .”. The overselling of seats is deliberate so that usage is at capacity. The same is true of bandwidth capacity and explains why bandwidth connections run faster or slower depending on the number of users and their use.
Shared bandwidth is generally offered on a ‘best effort’ basis and without a performance guarantee. Dedicated bandwidth is set aside by the provider and always available for your use. A best practice or rule of thumb is to use shared bandwidth for casual use and non-critical needs and dedicated bandwidth for presenters, critical needs such as registration, and large events.
#5. Verify Bandwidth Delivered
How will you know if you receive the bandwidth you paid for? Be sure to include in your event technology contract specifics on provider usage reports (specifying how detailed it needs to be and time of reporting). If you wait until after the event, the provider may not be able to provide you the detail you want. Always test your bandwidth at various times during the event. Two websites that provide free testing are http://www.speedtest.net and http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/. Although very helpful, these tests are intended to give you an estimate of upload and download speeds and are not to be considered “verified” usage.
#6. Exhibitors’ Wireless Networks
If your event includes exhibitors, know that their Wi-Fi equipment can interfere with the in-house network and can decrease the satisfaction experienced by your attendees. Discuss this with the facility and explore options to minimize the effect of exhibitor wireless networks on the meeting or event.
#7. Site Inspection and Evaluation
Bandwidth is no different from any other part of the event planning process. Start six to twelve months out and, at a minimum, identify
- Who manages the network (hotel, in-house AV, third party provider)
- Their technical capabilities
- How the network is managed (can they partition bandwidth based on your requirements)
- Who their onsite expert is (AND that they actually have one)
- How to connect your expert with their expert.
#8. Pricing Models
No consistency currently exists in bandwidth pricing models. Pricing falls into two major categories: by connection and by bandwidth. “By bandwidth” is better able to fulfill the event needs at a fair price and track history necessary for future event planning. Bandwidth pricing covers not only the cost to provide bandwidth but also the infrastructure required to deliver bandwidth, allow for back-up equipment, and onsite support.
#9. Bandwidth for Event Apps
Ask the question: What does the app do? Basic event information (low usage), posts pictures to social media (medium usage), streams the event (high usage) are all considerations to be assessed. Also, consider how many devices will be accessing the app. Know that even devices not actively being used are still connected to the network. Ask for reporting on this usage. A best practice is to include a question on your registration form asking how many devices your attendees might be planning to use and for what.
#10. Why Not Free?
Although we talk about ‘free’ Wi-Fi, in reality, it is never free. Free Wi-Fi in that coffee shop is a cost integrated into the price of that cup of coffee. “Free Wi-Fi in your hotel room is a cost factored into your lodging rate.” For event facilities, the cost of providing Wi-Fi involves not only the bandwidth, but the infrastructure to support it. With rapidly evolving technology, that infrastructure must be adapted/updated every four years. While it is normally easy to factor the cost of bandwidth into a guest’s sleeping room rate so that it is free/included, the planner may have to modify the event budget to cover some or all of the bandwidth costs either by adjusting the registration rate or through sponsorship.
The Convention Industry Council’s Standards Committee and its Bandwidth Workgroup continually work to provide the industry with information necessary to produce quality events. New APEX glossary terms, how to construct an RFP, and other useful tools are forthcoming. A wealth of information already exists on CIC’s website at http://www.conventionindustry.org/StandardsPractices/APEX/bandwidthconnectivity.aspx.
MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, CHE is the President of Bobrow Associates, Inc., an association and meetings management company. Charles Massey, CMP is Founder and CEO of SYNAXIS Meetings and Events, a full service meeting and event management firm. Both are members of the CIC’s APEX Standards Committee and its Bandwidth Workgroup.
Charles Massey, CMP is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. He established SYNAXIS in 1994 building upon a successful twelve-year career in the hospitality industry. A strong believer in professional association involvement, Charles is a past president of Meeting Professionals International’s Southern California Chapter (MPISCC) and a past board member of the Southern California Society of Association Executives (SCSAE). He served on MPI’s International board of directors in 2002/2003 and returned to the MPISCC board to serve as Vice President, Leadership Development in 2003/2004.