- by Seth Burstein
- Jan 27, 2019
- event organizer
Until several years ago, WiFi was a rarity at public events, and it was considered rude for event-goers to pull out their phones and take photos for sharing online. Now, however, with the rapid advancement of technology and pervasive nature of social media, securing fast, reliable WiFi should be near the top of every event manager’s to-do list. You won’t hear anything but satisfied silence from your attendees, exhibitors, and vendors if your WiFi is up to par ? but if your event-goers are experiencing slow load times or having trouble connecting, the negative reviews can be crippling. The number of #WiFiFail tags accompanying photos of your event on social media websites will be the least of your worries.
Luckily, providing event-goers with a good WiFi connection is relatively straightforward. All it takes is the willingness to plan ahead and consider the details pertinent to your event. As an event manager, you’re already a pro when it comes to planning, so here are some tips to guide you through the details and help ensure that the WiFi at your next event is a success.
Know the Needs of Your Business and Your Audience
While there are some events that don’t require WiFi ? or even actively discourage online sharing such as with a product still in stealth mode ? most events will benefit greatly from a strong WiFi connection. Not only will Internet access be useful for your guests and production staff but it will also allow for live broadcasting, payment processing, registration, and so on.
The best place to start when it comes to setting up WiFi for your event is to create an attendee spreadsheet. This document should include a list of everyone who might require Internet access at the event and the number and type of tech devices they might bring, even if it’s just an estimate. Your WiFi vendor can then use this information to determine how much bandwidth you’ll require for your event.
Choose the Right WiFi Vendor
Speaking of WiFi vendors, if you start your search for a vendor online, you’ll likely end up with more results than you know what to do with. It’s not difficult to acquire the equipment necessary for establishing a WiFi service company and then launch a website, so there are no lack of vendors for you to choose from.
Many large companies will feature numerous “amazing” reviews and an impressive-looking list of the big brands they’ve worked with in the past, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re the best choice and rush into hiring them. Larger companies often take on several projects at a time, and they may move on to another client after your WiFi initial setup, leaving them unavailable to answer your questions or accommodate any requests for changes. They may even make you sign an agreement relieving the company of any liability if something goes wrong with the WiFi at your event.
You should also watch out for vendors whose main goal is marketing their own brand. They may show up wearing colorful uniforms with the company logo in full view and go so far as to set up captive portals that display their brand name and collect user information for their own database. If you sense that a company is more interested in promoting itself than providing you with an exemplary WiFi experience, you may be better off with another vendor.
Your safest bet is to find a company specializes in providing event WiFi. Try conducting regional searches, reading reviews, and even asking the owners of the event venue you’re renting if the WiFi vendors from any past events left a good impression on them.
Familiarize Yourself with WiFi Terminology
You don’t need to be a WiFi specialist to ensure a reliable Internet connection for your event, but it never hurts to be familiar with some common WiFi terminology, such as the following:
SSID – the name of your wireless network
Hardline – an Ethernet connection that some devices may require in order to connect to the Internet
Captive Portal – a ‘welcome’ page that greets guests when they log onto a WiFi network
Access Point – a device, similar to a router, that emits a WiFi signal
Switch – a device that connects many tech devices together via hardline Ethernet connection
Cat 5 or Cat 6 – types of cable used for network deployments
Hot Spare –preconfigured backup equipment available on-site in case of primary equipment failure
SLA – ‘service level agreement’
You can always do your own research on common WiFi terms, but this is a great place to start. Familiarizing yourself with these words and their meanings is especially useful for understanding what options your WiFi provider offers and explaining to your provider exactly what you want from the WiFi at your event.
Determine Your Bandwidth Requirements
There are several different types of bandwidth, all at different price-points. Cellular bandwidth is the most affordable, but its speed can’t be guaranteed. If you’re unable to acquire a more robust network in time for your event, cellular WiFi is an inexpensive and easy option, with setup taking no more than a few minutes.
A more expensive, yet more reliable bandwidth option is dedicated bandwidth, but this is mostly recommended if it fits within your budget and if having a robust Internet connection is critical to the success of your event.
Using point-to-point antennas is a common and reliable option for acquiring dedicated bandwidth. The setup process for professionals is relatively easy and fast, and you can purchase up to 10 Gbps (ie – blazing fast speeds, enough to download about three full-length HD movies in one second).
Configure Your Network Appropriately
In the past, many event WiFi vendors would only set up one network for all segments to connect to. The lack of security was a serious problem with this method because if there was any devices with malware connected to the network, there was a chance the malware could spread to all the other devices connected to the network.
Lack of properly allocated bandwidth was also a problem. With all of the guests, staff and even the broadcasting team connected to a single network, if one user decided to download a movie or transfer large files on the network, the connection could slow down significantly for everyone.
Each segment of your event should get its own network, with limitations and restrictions according to its requirements. This is where the spreadsheet we mentioned earlier comes in. Knowing the WiFi needs of your guests will help you decide which attendees should be on which network. For example, press teams should be allowed higher WiFi speeds in order to accommodate their broadcasting needs, while guest devices should be separated into other VLANs which require less bandwidth.
Be Prepared for User Density
There are specific places you can count on guests to gather at any event, such as the coffee bar during a break at a conference or the runway at a fashion show. If you’re expecting a high-density zone at your event, you’ll need the right equipment in order to meet the network demand in that area.
Make it a priority to talk to your event WiFi provider and let them know where these zones are. You should also make certain that the equipment they’re using in these areas is up to date and is able to support the necessary number of simultaneously connected devices.
While you can make an estimate for your spreadsheet, it’s unlikely that you’ll know exactly know how many tech devices your guests will bring with them to your event, so be sure to plan for tablets, laptops, smartwatches and other such devices in addition to smartphones.
Just as you’d write a detailed report after an important meeting or notes evaluating the success of an event for use in the next event, a good WiFi vendor should have equipment that can generate detailed reports on the status of the WiFi during your event.
Knowing how many devices were connected to the network and how much bandwidth was used is immensely useful, as it will you make smarter choices regarding your network and bandwidth needs for future events. For a reliable service for your future events, you can check out our event WiFi solutions for meetings and conferences.