WiFi 101: Have Enough Bandwidth for your Event?
Next week, our very own Tim LaFleur, is presenting at MPI-WEC on the very engaging topic of WiFi and what planners need to know to really understand it and tips on how to negotiate it with venues, hotel partners, and suppliers. Speaking with Tim about WiFi is seriously as exciting as it would be to talk to Steve Jobs about the iPhone. As Director of Mobile Strategy, Tim lives, breathes, eats and sleeps technology, and lucky for us, he is always willing to share his vast knowledge on the topic with our audience. Here are a few things Tim and I discussed.
Some of the key points he made are…
Personal experience with WiFi doesn’t always translate into WiFi experience at events.
WiFi is all around us in our daily lives. The majority of us have personal networks at home and are very used to going into the nearest coffee shop, restaurant and sometimes even outdoor park to pick up a free and reliable WiFi network. Mobility has blurred the line between personal and professional environments, so it is easy to understand why it is a common misconception that the WiFi at a meeting or event is easily accessible, ready-to-use, fast, and even free.
What used to ruin a meeting quicker than anything else is bad food. Now it is bad food and bad WiFi.
Free isn’t always free.
If the WiFi doesn’t provide enough bandwidth, network strength or throughput to support the participants, the meeting or event experience is in serious jeopardy. The cost of free WiFi can be an expensive opportunity cost.
But we have enough bandwidth, right?
Bandwidth is such a commonly used termed, even to typically describe one’s ability to complete their workload, that the question begs to be asked, ‘do we really understand what bandwidth is?’ Upload speeds, download speeds; sure we get the basic concept. A planner doesn’t need to know everything about how a network works. However, they do need to understand enough of the terms and technology to have an intelligent conversation to know what they are getting. A good WiFi experience isn’t simply about bandwidth. It is also about network strength, throughput, latency, bandwidth and how it is partitioned. All too often, a planner who is speaking with a venue technician doesn’t have a full understanding of what they are receiving and the venue technician doesn’t necessarily understand the dynamics of the meeting needs. It is critical for the success of the event that we continue to close this gap or our programs may suffer as a result from slowed networks and a lack of connectivity.
Bandwidth, throughput, partitioning – please explain.
The simplest way to explain bandwidth is to relate it to the size of a water hose. There is only so much water that can fit through the limited size of the hose. When the water that comes through the hose is sectioned off and allocated toward people that is the same thing as using some of the bandwidth of the network.
Throughput, on the other hand, is how much data can actually transmit through an access point or the hardware that transmits the internet signal.Throughput is limited by how many people can connect to a certain access point.Typically, each access point allows for 75-100 connections at a time. If too many devices are trying to connect to the same access point, users can experience a DOS (denial of service) and not be allowed into the network.
We have all experienced a slow network or the inability to access the WiFi when the person sitting next to us is not experiencing any issues.This is a result of a common occurrence when the network hasn’t been designed properly to allow for enough bandwidth or throughput or is just experiencing a high volume of traffic or is noisy due to old or outdated hardware.
It is also important to note that mobile devices don’t ever really go idle when WiFi is enabled. There are always apps running in the background that are utilizing the bandwidth and connecting to an access point.So if you have a room of 1000 people connected to a couple access points and transmitting a little bit of data, it can take up significant bandwidth and throughput.
Finally, partitioning is also a key term and idea to understand. A facility may give you an overall figure for the total bandwidth. However, asking how the bandwidth is partitioned between meeting space, hotel staff and guest rooms, for instance, is extremely important to understand to be able to design a network to support the event needs. Additionally, it is important to recognize if the partition is flexible and if it can be changed to be able to allocate additional bandwidth to specific areas.
Plan and design your event network just as you would design your food & beverage needs.
The biggest mistake planners make is to simply base the needs of the network off the number of attendees.In-depth conversations regarding the program needs are imperative to the success of the network. Are we talking about basic internet surfing, downloading, polling, and/or streaming? What types of apps will be used? Where will users be located (all in one room in separate spaces)? These are all key questions to consider and to discuss with the facility or supplier partner to ensure the network is designed to meet the event’s needs. Just as a planner wouldn’t simply tell the CSM that they need food for 500 people without explaining how many at each meal function and any special food sensitivities nor should a planner skip over such important details of the WiFi needs.
Breaking down the cost of WiFi
The conversation regarding the cost and WiFi services provided needs to begin during the RFP, sourcing, and contracting process.There are two basic methods for the pricing of WiFi. It is typically either the total amount of bandwidth allocated across unlimited users or based on the total number of concurrent connections.There are pros and cons to each method, however the number of connections tends to be easier to plan around. Having these conversations up-front will go a long way to keeping costs under control while providing planners with the appropriate network needs.
People tend to look at internet and events in two ways, either a cost of doing business or a profit center. Planners tend to think that it should be a cost of doing business and properties tend to think it should be a profit center and this is where negotiating becomes important. All conversations around the network should be addressed at the time of contract signing.
A final note
WiFi is now the fourth utility. There is power, water, heat/AC and now you have WiFi. Planners wouldn’t put on an event without the other three critical utilities so don’t skip out on the fourth one.