Understanding how to procure and pay for high-speed Internet access at events is confusing at best. You might be able to get free Wi-Fi. But do you want it? Maybe you should guarantee your speed and connection with some dedicated bandwidth and leave “free” in the lobby. You can find out all about your choices in our Ultimate Guide to Wi-Fi at Events. Or just read on for our quick-and-dirty guide to pricing, and the future of free Wi-Fi.


Paying for Wi-Fi at Convention Centers

Tom Grohman, manager of the IT services unit at association management firm SmithBucklin in Chicago, has been presented with more than half a dozen pricing schemes at various venues.  His preference at convention centers is a “wireless buyout,” a flat fee for dedicated bandwidth and unlimited connections and coverage throughout the meeting space for the duration of the event. In his experience, buyout pricing has ranged from $10,000 to $40,000 for events of fewer than 10,000 attendees. Find out how organizations defray that cost in our Ultimate Guide.


Paying for Wi-Fi in Hotels

PSAV, which works with nearly 400 hotels in the U.S. and Canada, has standardized Internet pricing so that it is based on the amount of bandwidth ordered. “It’s the closest approximation we have for the cost of installing those networks in the first place,” says PSAV’s Matt Harvey. Volume discounting is “baked in,” he says. “We call out prices for 0.5Mbps, 1, 3, 5, 10, up to 100 Mbps. The more you buy, the lower the price per Mbps.”


Competitive Bidding

Trade Show Internet is a temporary network provider that planners can hire to set up high-speed Internet access at a venue—even those with in-house providers—if, as CEO Ian Framson explains, “the venue either has no network or the network is insufficiently built to handle their needs.” Framson’s view is that planners should contact temporary network providers to keep the in-house provider honest. “If Internet access is critical, it should not be a no-bid award,” he says. “You need multiple bids to ensure competitive pricing and quality of service.” He and others say FCC rulings prohibit “exclusivity” in providing Internet service, but he advises planners who intend to get outside bids to address it early in the planning process.


How About that Free Wi-Fi?

A trending option for hotels and centers is to offer free Wi-Fi for guests and convention attendees with just enough bandwidth to check e-mail and visit a Web site; then offer a faster connection as a paid option. PSAV’s Matt Harvey is not a fan. “The challenge is what is ‘just enough’? Is it just enough to annoy people? I don’t think offering a crippled level of connection is a path to excellent customer service.”

TSI’s Framson also makes the quality argument. “There is no consistency. Planners should expect that free is mediocre at best. In general, a good network will cost $10 to $50 per person.” Get more views on the future of free Wi-Fi in our Ultimate Guide.