What is in this article?:
Here’s the truth about how hotels and convention centers charge meeting organizers for Wi-Fi at their events, in the words of a venue executive: “What is the fair price? Whatever the client can afford to pay.”
So what you’re about to read regarding investments venues are making to meet bandwidth demand, and how often they must upgrade that infrastructure, is relevant. But the bottom line is that market forces are at work in Internet pricing. Getting your best deal means going in with as much knowledge as possible.
It’s the Wild West
Which can be easier said than done, considering the varied service quality and pricing schemes planners are likely to encounter. Among the ways that Tom Grohman, manager of the IT services unit at association management firm SmithBucklin in Chicago, has seen venues charge for Internet connectivity are the following:
• Pricing based on bandwidth.
• Pricing based on bandwidth plus the number of locations where connectivity is needed—For example, you might be charged $10,000 to connect to the venue’s 10Mbps of bandwidth, then an additional $500 or $1,000 for each place in the venue where attendees can get a wireless signal or wired connection.
• Pricing based on concurrent connections—
that is, the highest number of users connected at any one time during your event. (So there might be a set fee for 1,000 peak users, a higher fee for 2,000 peak users, and so on.)
• Pricing based on unique connections—that is, all devices connected to the network during the event. This requires giving attendees unique access codes. The show organizer would then pay an agreed-upon amount per connection.
• Pricing based on a daily fee charged to the individual attendees
• Free! OK, that’s rare, but it is available at some centers, including the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, and the Austin Convention Center. (Caveat: All these centers suggest that exhibitors spring for individual wired connections and point out that the free networks are unmanaged, therefore susceptible to rogue users hogging bandwidth and other interference.)
• Wireless “buyout”— a flat fee for dedicated bandwidth, and unlimited connections and coverage throughout the meeting space for the duration of the event.
The latter is Grohman’s preferred pricing method. In his experience a wireless buyout ranges from $10,000 to $40,000; for shows of more than 10,000 attendees the fee could rise much higher. One way to defray the cost is to sell the “splash page” to a sponsor. This is the first page a user sees when connecting to the network.
Of course, not all the largest meetings necessarily pay the fee at all. (See “How HIMSS Meets Its Wireless Demand.")
Smart City Networks offers buyouts at the 37 convention centers where it provides wired and wireless networks. Among the variables at play in designing and pricing a buyout, says David Lang-ford, vice president, technology, are the amount of bandwidth dedicated to the network, the space rented (one hall or the full building, for example), the number of users and devices, the duration of the event, and anything that might change (a different splash page each day, for example).
For show organizers that do not need or want a buyout and are meeting at a venue served by Smart City Networks, they can use the venue’s free public-space Wi-Fi, which is sufficient for checking e-mail or visiting a Web site. At the next level is the Instant Internet package, which is slightly faster Wi-Fi in the public areas and the meeting space, and costs $12.95 per person per day; three days for price of two; and five days for price of three.
In general, show organizers work directly with a center’s Internet service provider or the center itself to order their Internet connectivity. And in most centers, exhibitors’ Internet connectivity is handled separately from that of attendees and show operations. Smart City Networks offers the Exhibitor Internet package, which delivers basic wireless service on the 5.0GHz spectrum. (This is important to note, as it does not interfere with the wireless signals for the rest of your attendees, which are on the 2.4GHz spectrum.) Many exhibitors bring in their own wired solution, Langford points out, but the wireless package, at $79.95 per day, allows them to move around with an iPad or laptop.
Exhibitors may bring their own wireless solutions as well, which is what Olivia Cole, client services director at advertising agency Greenlight, did for a show last year. “La Quinta Inns & Suites hired Greenlight to manage theirbooth. Our concept for the booth was supported by Twitter: Our goal was to ‘own’ the social space at the conference,” Cole says. “This was risky, as we were more reliant on a strong Internet connection than we had been in years past.
“In our initial planning, we learned that the conference was going to charge in the ballpark of $7,000 for Internet service. There wasn’t going to be any guarantee, and the connection would be shared with anyone else shelling out the big bucks.” Cole hired GoodGuyMobileInternet instead. “The service was reliable and their pricing more than fair.” GGMI service starts at $250 per day; Greenlight’s Internet bill for the show was around $800.