"What's the Wi-Fi password?"
You know it. I know it. It's the indiscriminate first question of the morning. At every meeting, conference, networking event, this question will be asked. And it will be asked often (even if you post all of the info publicly and in clear sight). In the past 10 years, Wi-Fi has become fundamental to events. Even when your event technology doesn't necessarily require it, your attendees expect it, and they expect it to work seamlessly and immediately. With smaller meetings, good Wi-Fi connections are easier to find and provide, but they aren't a given. We should always plan for the possibility that our event's venue cannot or will not provide us with fast, accessible Wi-Fi that can support all our attendees and their multitudes of devices.
The Myth of 'Complimentary Wi-Fi'
Never believe the words 'Complimentary Wi-Fi' that event venues plaster on their websites and in their lobbies. They know it's a selling point, but they also rarely define what 'Complimentary Wi-Fi' means; how fast it is, who gets it, or what data you need to share to connect to it?
Like most complimentary amenities, "free" Wi-Fi rarely ends up actually being free, and it's even less likely to be great. Similarly, the words 'Event Wi-Fi' or 'Dedicated Wi-Fi' that likely shows up in your site selection and contracting process may not actually provide the robust Wi-Fi that your attendees need.
It's best to do your homework ahead of time or risk not having enough bandwidth to support your attendees. These days, most venues offer some version of dedicated Wi-Fi for meetings and events, but many lag behind on the voracious and growing use of mobile devices and the bandwidth of data they use. That means that it's on planners and event professionals to define their event's needs for dedicated Wi-Fi infrastructure at their events.
Event Wi-Fi Prep Checklist
Before you ask your venue the right questions about event Wi-Fi, you’ll first need to answer some basics for yourself:
Have you estimated the number of devices that you expect to be on site?
This includes your team as well as attendees, and the possibility that people will be using more than one device.
Do you need dedicated Wi-Fi everywhere or just within a meeting space?
You may just have a single room or meeting space to cover. Or you may have an entire conference center, expo hall, and registration area.
How is your bandwidth being used?
Are you attendees casually checking emails or livestreaming/live-blogging and working on media heavy projects at your event?
Are you using event apps?
Do you have vendors or exhibitors that needs extra bandwidth or their own dedicated bandwidth?
Does the venue have a good mobile 4G or LTE access?
While this shouldn’t directly affect your planning for Wi-Fi allocation, good mobile connection will lead to less strain on your event Wi-fi.
Ensure these questions are answered by the venue
If the venue Wi-Fi is included, is it dedicated or shared?
'Dedicated bandwidth' is the term you should look for in your contract.
Without dedicated bandwidth, your connection could be shared and bogged down by other events, people staying at the hotel, or just about anyone who manages to connect to the venue's Wi-Fi
If "dedicated bandwidth" is being provided, where in the venue can your attendees connect to the dedicated event Wi-Fi?
Dedicated bandwidth is often relegated to certain access points within a venue. Find out where those access points are and what rooms or areas will they be reliable. With poor placement, your event Wi-Fi could cover your meeting rooms, but not reach your registration tables.
What are the costs associated with their dedicated bandwidth?
Don't expect the venue to include Wi-Fi coverage in your basic costs just because they have the infrastructure available. Just like electric charges and A/V, you need to budget and plan for it or risk a very expensive surprise once your event starts.
What proof does the venue provide that you are receiving the bandwidth promised?
Especially for larger events, part of your Wi-Fi planning process should require the venue to provide some documentation or proof that the venue can provide the bandwidth specified. If they can't provide that, you may want to consider hiring a 3rd party Wi-Fi company to do a site survey or consult. 3rd parties can help you with negotiation if the venue's infrastructure doesn't check out or even if you're simply being overcharged. And if the venue can't provide what they promised, you'll have an alternative vendor to find out what your options are.
Read the Fine Print and Negotiate Wi-Fi Up Front
Once you know what kind of Wi-Fi infrastructure you need and what the venue offers, it's time to get to the dirty work of reading the fine print of the venue contracts.
In-house AV and IT teams would love to have you believe that they are your only option for decent Wi-Fi. The truth is, Wi-Fi exclusivity contracts are completely illegal in the US. If you haven't signed anything, the FCC has ruled over and over that you are allowed to bring in 3rd party vendors for Wi-Fi and use temporary hotspots for smaller events, and venues can not block you from doing so.
For larger events, 3rd party Wi-Fi may not be cheap, but it's likely cheaper than in-house Wi-Fi that I've seen range from $50 to $200 per attendee. (There's a reason that Wi-Fi is becoming one of the faster generators of income for large venues.)
One of the major contracting tricks used by venues to subvert laws against exclusivity is by bundling Wi-Fi into discounted bundled of "event services." These bundles often discount A/V, labor charges, Wi-Fi, food, and other services together, meaning that if you use an outside provider for one, the venue can remove your discount for all of them. The result is a larger increase in events costs across the board.
Before you sign a contact, ask to include language that requires your discounts not be bundled together or risk limited options if the venue's Wi-Fi is not able to meet your demands or has an inflated costs.
Here's an example of language you could use: “Event planner retains the right to use their own 3rd party supplier for audio/visual, Internet, Wi-Fi, and related telecommunications services. Prior to contract signing, venue must disclose in advance or otherwise agree to waive, all fees for associated services, including but not limited to electrical, MDF/IDF closet access, fiber cross-connect, copper cross-connect, port access, patch panel, Ethernet drop, roof access, gear storage, and labor supervision.”
Ensuring the WiFi at your event is up to par is critical to the success of your event. This is because audience engagement is no longer a nice to have. Audiences expect it. Next generation audience response solutions are web-based. There's no need for attendees to download an event app. The result is a boost in audience participation.
If you're interested in a no strings attached consultation with Matt, click below.
Matthew King is Glisser’s in-house expert on Wi-Fi and streaming solutions, helping our clients make sure Glisser’s attendee engagement tech and Glisser Live options run smoothly for all attendees and presenters on-site and remotely.