High prices, confusing setups, sketchy performance, mysterious lingo: That’s just some of what planners face when arranging high-speed Internet access for events these days. We asked tech experts for some insight.
How Much Bandwidth Do I Need?
Answer these seven questions to find out. And remember, it takes more than bandwidth to give attendees a good Internet experience.
1. How many attendees are there?
The number of attendees gives you an idea of your bandwidth requirements, but it’s just a starting point. Try out the Bandwidth Estimator (convn.org/wifi-estimator), a tool from the Convention Industry Council’s new Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup, part of the Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) effort. But not if you’ve got more than 1,000 delegates. “The Estimator is capped at 1,000 attendees, because above that point the variables are too great to control,” says Matt Harvey, director of client network services for PSAV, which provides network management at 150 hotels and venues in the U.S. and Canada (and sales and support at more than 300 others).
2. How do your attendees use the Internet?
If you expect that most attendees will do little more than check e-mail during breaks, you might have low bandwidth needs. If they’re all participating in Web training, constantly accessing your mobile , and posting photos to Facebook, you have high bandwidth needs. So what’s “high” and “low” exactly? Check out the chart in our Ultimate Guide (which also can help you avoid buying enough bandwidth for a small country).
3. How will your presenters use the Internet?
Know exactly what they intend to do: Live demos? Streaming video? Audience polling via smartphone? And consider a wired instead of wireless connection for them. “A hard-wired (Ethernet) connection is more stable,” says James Spellos, CMP, president of Meeting U. “As a speaker, I always request both, and that’s a good idea for all planners to do.”
4. How many devices does each attendee have?
Do you expect everyone to bring a smartphone and a tablet? Consider polling them ahead of time.
5. Where will your users need Wi-Fi?
At one meeting, attendees were told to turn off their devices during the general session. Then when they all crowded into the prefunction space and tried to log on, there was a lot of disappointment. This had nothing to do with bandwidth, it had to do with the wireless signal. Anticipate these types of situations and beef up the wireless access points if necessary. Learn all about wireless access points in our Ultimate Guide.
6. Do you need dedicated bandwidth?
It’s a trick question. Yes! You need it. Theoretically, you could take the chance that publicly available bandwidth used by attendees, non-attendee hotel guests, people walking by, will be there and accessible at just the times you need it. A better idea (and the APEX best practice) is to buy dedicated bandwidth for connections that are critical—speakers, registration, your planning war room. “Dedicated” means it’s yours only.
7. What’s your app doing?
Work with your mobile meeting app developer so you know what it will take for attendees get the full benefit of the features you’ve included. The APEX workgroup offers a rough description of how apps break down along bandwidth lines:
• Low bandwidth: an app that provides basic, regularly updated event information
• Medium bandwidth: an app that allows and encourages attendees to post photos
• High bandwidth: an app that includes live-stream capabilities
8. Do you know about inteference?
Here’s where you might need to get a little techy. Have a conversation with your venue about how to handle other people (exhibitors, speakers, attendees) bringing in their own “hotspots” (wireless connections), which may interfere with the wireless access points you’re depending on to serve your entire event. Find out what else causes interference in our Ultimate Guide.
Can the Venue Handle My Internet Needs?
Test the bandwidth during your site inspection at a Web site such as www.speedtest.net. “Remember that any test is only a snapshot of bandwidth at a given point in time,” says James Spellos. Ask about who else is on site and what they are consuming that might affect your speed-test reading.
2. Network Management
You'll want to be sure someone is managing the network while you are on site. That means monitoring bandwidth supply and demand, looking out for wireless interference, and creating rules so no single user can hog all the bandwidth. Read what else you can do to ensure service that keeps everyone happy in our Ultimate Guide.
Ask when the venue’s Wi-Fi system was installed. A report from wireless network provider iBahn states, “If a hotel’s Wi-Fi system was designed before 2010, it likely needs to be reconfigured to support the video demand arising from new devices like the iPad.”
Who is your on-site contact? Are the network engineers on site or in a remote location? What’s the backup plan if a service failure occurs?
5. Outside Providers
If you’re unconvinced that a venue can meet your needs, you have the option of hiring an outside company. This could be a small company such as Good Guy Mobile Internet, launched by redubtton.tv founder Sam Stanton, which provides easy-to-set-up equipment that can connect up to 20 people (appropriate for a booth or your on-site planning room). Or it could be a temporary network provider such as Trade Show Internet, who will create an entire site survey for your network, and bring in all the equipment and support you need.