It’s hard to imagine an event these days that doesn’t involve technology. Attendees expect Wi-Fi and cell phone access, and you rely on these necessities to produce your show. From interactive tabletops and RFID bracelets to video conferencing and asking your audience to take a text-based poll, steady access to the internet is absolutely critical for most events.
The more devices and online activity you expect, the more bandwidth you’ll need. But what will it cost? You must nail down the details up front in order to protect your event and your budget. So, here are some tips to boost Wi-Fi speed for your event – without getting hammered by a huge cost surprise.
Survey the site
Your smartphone probably has a network testing tool, but a specialized app can do a better job. Wi-Fi Analyzer is a good example. Connect to a Wi-Fi network and walk around, and you can see how well the signal does in different locations. (Keep in mind that service is likely to weaken when demand is higher.) You’re looking for a couple of different things:
- Is there Wi-Fi coverage? If so, which frequency bands does it occupy? 2GHz, 5GHz?
- Test the Wi-Fi speed. Go to speedtest.net and press the big "GO" button, but remember that speeds will decrease as the number of users increase. Keep in mind this is only tracking at the time of use. Once the event fills up with attendees using the Wi-Fi, the speed test results could be completely different.
- What cellular coverage is there? If one of the big providers like T-Mobile doesn’t work, Wi-Fi will have to pick up the slack, putting that much more pressure on its capacity.
- Look at the Ethernet wall plates. If they are beat-up or broken, that’s possibly a sign that the infrastructure isn’t as well-maintained as it could be.
- Check the network access locations. How many are there, and where are they within your event space? If there is only one in the entire ballroom, it might be difficult (if not impossible) to complete cable runs within the maximum of 300 feet. Long runs can degrade signal quality, and depending on your setup, the extraneous cable can become a physical problem as well.
Can you get dedicated bandwidth for your event?
If not, you’ll be sharing, so find out exactly what that means. Will you be sharing with the entire hotel? All the conference and ballrooms? The meeting next door? The more users, especially if they are also heavy technology users, the more problems you are likely to have with fluctuating access and fading reliability.
Ask about captive portals or custom Wi-Fi names. Is that an additional charge? In fact, ask to meet with someone from the venue's network or IT team. If the person who shows up is actually from the AV department or some other non-IT area (like food and beverage), it’s likely the venue has sub-contracted out to a third party, perhaps out of state. If so, is there any local support? What is the venue’s response plan if something goes down?
If you need dedicated lines you should tell the venue exactly what you need for up and down speeds. Track it and hold them to it. Run a speed test and take a screenshot if it is below the agreed upon speed. This is extremely critical when doing live-streaming events.
Can you bring in your own network?
Take nothing for granted. Bandwidth problems can ruin your event, so treat technology like the critical event component it is. Ask if they allow third-party vendors – many now allow outside AV companies, but not necessarily IT. Some want to bundle AV and IT, which can further limit your options and increase your costs.
Better yet, can you bring in your own system? When allowed, Heroic Productions works with Buzz Buzz, which provides portable internet relay units. Buzz Buzz provides predictable, reliable internet without the need to test or trust the site's system, and the cost is often comparable to paying a fee to the venue.
And what if your event is happening at a less tech-friendly location, like at a park or on a boat? Or what if your corporate meeting is highly confidential and you need guaranteed network security? Then a portable internet relay system like Buzz Buzz is the best – and possibly only – solution.
No matter the venue, your goal is a comfortable level of bandwidth, access points, etc. so that event production and attendees can function smoothly and conveniently. Remember, nobody notices the Wi-Fi, unless it doesn't work right. You can’t afford to have less-than-stellar technology undermining your event or give attendees an experience that is indelibly marred by the inability to get online efficiently or stay connected. But by planning ahead, you can get what you need, at a cost you can predict.