Avoid surprise invoices after the event and difficult conversations by arming yourself with some of the latest tips from industry experts on buying WiFi or wired internet for your meeting. Meeting planners may rely a little too much on their technology partners to guide them down the right path. You could be overpaying the hotel tens of thousands of dollars! Discover the right questions to ask, understand the latest terminology, and ensure your budget includes enough resources to make your meeting a success.
From PCMA Convening Leaders in January 2014, “Do You Know What You Need to Know about High Speed Internet Access?” and another training on Internet Connectivity offered by James Spellos, here are some recommendations for overcoming challenges with meetings related internet access. Let’s review the fundamentals gleaned from these two sessions and help you focus your planning and budget for success.
- There are two Bandwidth Types.
- Shared environment: Usually free WiFi
- Dedicated for your meeting: using virtual partitions
- Digital Density (or the number of devices): Personal WiFi or Mi-fi devices such as those sold by cellular phone companies, cell phones in general but especially Apple products which are “always transmitting”, wireless routers throughout the venue or neighboring businesses, etc. can all cause wireless interference and may restrict your available wireless signal / networks.
- Wireless Interference– How to prevent it? Ask meeting attendees to turn off devices while not in use (but you can’t really control that). To be safe make sure all presentations are hosted on a wired connection or spend a little more to rent a dedicated signal for your meeting (minimally the staff, speakers and exhibitors who rely on internet to conduct business if you can’t afford to host the entire audience).
- In your online registration form, ask attendees what devices attendees are bringing with. This will help you gauge how much bandwidth you need and help your plan for deploying new technology now or in the future like a conference mobile app.
- Consult with your mobile app provider to see how much bandwidth is required to power it, and plan on peak usage during the opening general session. Be sure your network can support this many users at one time.
- Before you even book the venue, perform a speed test during the site inspection in various locations throughout the venue your attendees may be accessing the internet, especially if you are paying for a specific amount of bandwidth.
- Immediately after the event, be sure to obtain usage information from the facility. The technology team definitely has this information it’s just a question of getting to the right employee/vendor for the information. Use this data to build a history of bandwidth usage for your event. Let the facility know up front you will be collecting this information by putting the request in your contract, specifically what reports you want and when you want them.
- Investigate the facility’s access points. One access point in a ballroom means the people/exhibitors in the corners probably don’t get the signal since the signal is sent in a circle. Multiple access points in the room mean the circles overlap and everyone should be covered unless you have a high demand area like a press/media room in which case we recommend wired or dedicated again. Investigate : Quantity, Location, Generation.
- Consider pricing internet based on consumption. You will need your meeting’s usage history to determine if this is better or worse for your budget. Most venues collect this data but purge it after the event within a few days or weeks. So ask for this data up front: How much bandwidth was used and when was your peak usage?
So then, what’s it going to cost me? You pay for what you get!
- Free is not necessarily better when it comes to internet. Free WiFi in a hotel is often shared between all public areas and guests. Often meeting room signals are shared with the Hotel Sales. At this time, our industry does not reflect any consistency in price. Be sure you are comparing apples to apples in your proposals (per connection vs. amount of bandwidth).
- Ask the proposed venue: who manages the bandwidth, how big is the pipeline, how is it divided within the hotel, and how many concurrent IP requests can you handle at any given point? If they can only handle a portion of your expected audience you will likely need to bring in your own bandwidth from a local ISP which might be more expensive.
- Make sure your guests (or you) are not being charged per device. The average user has 2-3 devices with them these days.
PCMA Convening Leaders in January 2014: “Do You Know What You Need to Know about High Speed Internet Access? By MaryAnne Bobrow, Michael Owen, and John Rissi.
The Ultimate Meeting Professionals Guide to Internet Connectivity, By James Spellos, The Meeting-U