Internet access is the gigantic black elephant in the room at every trade show, conference, shindig, hootenanny and pop-up in the world. Consumers and attendees expect it. And they don’t want to plug in at a station. They want wifi. They feel entitled to it, and God help you if they don’t have wifi or cell service at your venue. But any event planner or brand marketer will tell you, it’s not as easy as all that.
First, no matter how you slice it, providing even a little bandwidth is bloody expensive. Rent it from the venue and you’ll pay through the nose for frequently shoddy signal strength and little or no bandwidth. Buy the equipment yourself and bring it in, and you’re talking huge capital expenditures that will take economies of serious scale to justify.
Of course, attendees don’t care about any of that. (Even if they know it, on some level.) They just think all modern events need to find a way to get them onto Twitter, dammit, so they can tweet your keynoter’s insights. And if you don’t, when they finally do get online, the first thing they will do is complain to anyone who will listen, in person, online or by sky writing (if they can get hold of a biplane).
So what’s a brand to do? Don’t lose hope. EM is here with help. We’ve enlisted John O’Gara, group manger of technology for events at Microsoft, and he’s given us, and you, this list of the top five things you need to know in order to deploy wifi at your next event. (And silence those complainers once and for all.)
Get an adviser. You need someone who understands the technologies in play. Who knows what they need to do, has done it before and can get straight answers from providers about true capabilities. All while assessing your needs in a realistic fashion. Basically, you need to get a nerd. (No, you can’t have John. He’s spoken for.) So, ditch the salespeople and get a techie.
Know thyself. So you think you know your events inside and out? And you know your attendees, too? Good for you. Well, make sure that among the things you know are: how many online-capable devices your average attendee carries (probably about 1.5); where they will be hanging out and most active during your event (exhibit halls, keynote sessions, the bar) and how many of them will be trying to get online at the same time. (Microsoft events tend to peak at about 45 to 55 percent of attendees going online simultaneously at the most.)
Think about the on-ramps. O’Gara says you have to consider how heavily the attendees will be accessing the wifi highway, and how often. On average, most users will use between 50 and 150 kilobytes per second (about .15megs) of data, if they were to be online continuously. In reality, they will have long idle spells with intermittent peaks of use.
Consider renting. Find out what the venue has available for coverage and bandwidth capability. (This is where you need your nerd.) This will tell you if you need to augment the in-house systems or replace them entirely.
Communicate. This one is super important, O’Gara says. Make sure you manage the expectations of attendees in such a way that they will know where they will always be able to get a signal. And also where it will always be dark. Send out maps with your conference guidebooks and through your apps. Tweet it and post it on Facebook. You might even put up coverage maps … in real life, around the event. Most complaints arise because people were informed poorly, or incorrectly. A simple communications strategy can avoid those and a lot of confusion later. EM
For John’s insights into renting or buying wifi tech, click here.
To check out EM’s recommendations and warnings about some of the wifi tech out there, click here.