Connectivity is king. For the experience of those attending, to those delivering the event and those watching from afar. In the last 10 years connectivity has migrated from a nice to have to a critical system for any event that wants to engage with its audience and deliver effectively.

Good connectivity presents itself in several ways. Unfortunately for the organiser it’s critical to have an understanding of these aspects, just as they have an understanding of their audience or how many tickets have been sold.

When considering connectivity, it helps to be clear with those who you want to consider and those who you don’t.

The Organiser – local networks and the associated internet connectivity are critical for an organising team to work. Bandwidth here can normally be quickly estimated since it’s a known quantity. Cloud systems such as Dropbox and Office 365 increase requirements but are manageable even on small internet services. Systems such as Skype or more advanced video conferencing which are more common now when working with international committees, can dramatically increase requirements.

The Sponsor – the majority of activations now require some kind of high-quality connectivity. Engaging the sponsor is one thing, showing them what is possible or what can be supported with the right connectivity is next. For overlay locations local cellular (4G) services may be sufficient but within high volume areas these will most likely struggle to deliver significant bandwidth. For many events connectivity in this space is an afterthought which is problematic and expensive. Proactive discussions with sponsors at the start of any engagement will help identify what’s required and the most effective method of delivery.

The Press – considering the media appetite for the internet can make or break an event. Print media need to move images, which can be managed, but those who require outside broadcast type services generally either look to the event to help or use their own broadcast vehicles. Broadcast vehicles can be expensive so generally the approach of delivering onsite bandwidth means that more content can be pushed.

The Partners – bars (cashless) ticketing etc. Anyone who works with the organisers to deliver their part of the event. Smart tenders can mean issues relating to connectivity becomes the partners problem but many times this will add significantly to cost because everyone is doing their own thing. In many cases a shared service is preferred, like power. Cashless services are critical to processing payments. Fast, secure, effective transactions are expected.

The Attendee – normally the final piece of the puzzle. Leading events are now looking to this group first, to encourage engagement and legacy, in which case services such as viewing replays, concession service to seats, emergency messaging, are all common. The network and internet required to carry attendees data can be significant, again, more lead time means more efficiencies. If attendees are not part of scope, then cellular carriers are the best route to providing a level of connectivity.

For any organiser the technical side of events continues to grow, and they must add this to their ‘toolkit’ of knowledge and experience. Just as with ticketing, marketing or venue selection, it’s critical that those in senior positions understand what is being done, what the possible risks are and what their strategy is.

‘Robust Internet for Events’ was our topic of choice when I sat with Craig Mathie, MD of the Bournemouth Rugby Sevens event, a few weeks ago for an open forum at Event Tech Live in the Truman Brewery. Around 30 people joined us from a range of events to cover what many people think is the ‘boring’ side of internet at events, primarily because it should already be sorted, just like power and water, but in many cases it is not.

One thing that I love about events, but is also the most challenging, is that most of the time we are starting, in some respect, from scratch. The event team might know how to plan an event but it’s probably a new venue, or a new team in the venue, or a new green field site, or a new sponsor. Something is always changing and because of that, even on the ‘basics’ side it is critical to consider key elements.

From the discussion I have summarised some of the key points below;

What’s the best type of internet for my event?

Rather like what’s the best type of car for my family, it depends on what you are trying to do and by when. I went through some examples of venues which are well known for their events, so they have invested in high speed connectivity, such as a leased line which means that over three years the service is cheaper to the event delivering the best speeds. For a new site, or one with short notice, we tend to bring in internet wirelessly from another location, or using copper services (which are mostly for the consumer market but can work in a pinch) or satellite.

Does whole venue or site wide Wi-Fi work?

Yes. If you want site wide Wi-Fi it can be delivered no problem. It is technically difficult but hey – that’s why you work with Etherlive! Venue wise it’s generally simpler to install, outdoors can be a bit more complicated but still very achievable if planned appropriately.

Is contactless payment reliable?

Yes. There is no reason for any technical issues with deploying contactless systems. Reports of issues are generally related to the devices themselves rather than the connectivity.

Isn’t 5G going to remove the need for Wi-Fi on site?

No. 5G, like 4G and others before it are great technologies just with better and bigger marketing budgets. Cellular technology (of which 5G is the latest standard) is designed to provide high speed connections for large populations, like towns, so it’s not designed to handle a very high peak of people in a specific area. It also isn’t really ‘supported’ like events need (have you ever tried to phone a mobile phone operator, complain about service in an area, and get an engineer to attend?). One advantage when 5G is introduced will be devices having another network option to connect – this will free up some of the 4G (and 3G) service.

Virtual reality has been around for many, many years. From early home console attempts which could be bolted onto a Super Nintendo (anyone remember the
VictorMaxx?), to those massive virtual reality units which appeared for a while in arcades. Until recently however the desire was a long way ahead of the technology. Possibly we are now seeing a point where technology has caught up enough to make virtual reality the next big thing.

With the UK release of thVirtual Reality Evente Oculus Rift, a project which has been exciting the technology community for some time, many argue that home virtual reality has finally arrived. Cheaper projects like Google Cardboard demonstrate that even those who do not want to splash out mega bucks can get themselves a piece of the action. Alongside full virtual reality there has also been an explosion in competitively priced 360 degree cameras bringing a much broader accessibility to a more immersive video experience.

This is, of course, is only ‘virtual’ step one. To many, true virtual reality is a completely immersive experience you can walk, move and interact with. Liken it to the famous Holodeck of the Star Trek series. What we do have now though is a major step up from the past and a critical mass to iron out those remaining issues.

All this is very nice, but what does that matter for events?

Today’s technology could, and undoubtedly will over time, have an impact on what we understand as an event experience today.

What if you can sell a virtual ticket for your event to those with a disability which would normally impede their ability to attend? The experience might not quite be the same for a music event, nor can it ever really replace the handshake of a networking meeting, but facilitating access to events beyond the physical capacity is an exciting prospect for both the event organiser and attendee.

Or how would sponsors feel if they could replicate the excitement of a big product launch or latest artist after the event as part of their premium content? For training events there are many possibilities, enabling interactive and immersive sessions particularly suited to things like incident management and response, and also making virtual/remote training a more inclusive experience.

Needless to say, at this stage, the possibilities are exciting, things could go, virtually, anywhere (sorry!).

Laptops on deskIt may sound obvious but defining a clear specification for technical services means you’ll get what your event needs, when you want it at the right price.

Defining a clear specification in turn sets clear expectations. Without it assumptions will be made which can cause difficulties once works start. From the organiser perspective without documented specifications it can be challenging to tie a supplier down if they fail to deliver. It also ensures that pricing can be compared ‘apples to apples’ otherwise each supplier will make different assumptions leading to very different responses.

Customers often fear talking to suppliers prior to asking for formal quotes, yet using a supplier’s knowledge and experience can be a useful way to clarify what the actual requirements are.

A breadth of a scope or requirements document will vary based on the size of project but there are a few key areas which come up on nearly all projects:

  • Total Internet Capacity – Calculate how many concurrent people will need to use the internet at the same time. This may be lower than the total number of users who will be connected to the Wi-Fi at some point during an event. For example, if users are downloading an app, will they most likely do it when they first arrive? Are all the users going to be streaming? Is more of the usage just email/social media/browsing which typically has a lower concurrency.
  • Wireless (Wi-fi) coverage – Site plans make this much easier especially when coupled with an overlay of which areas need coverage helps with getting what you need. Events taking place within venues can usually supply dimensions of the space.
  • Engineer support – If the technology systems are a critical part of the event an engineer on site will mean help is on hand if anything goes wrong, or if plans change. Detailing the hours required removes any assumptions as to when support is expected on-site.
  • Build schedules – Everyone in the events industry knows that things change, but a concise plan of when things are happening, which is documented, can really help for quotes.
  • Integration – It is often the case that Wi-Fi and internet access will be used for multiple services from different suppliers and it really helps for this to be specified at quote stage to enable the technical supplier to understand what integration may be required – for example mobile apps, social media experiences, payment systems, streaming, etc.
  • Other services – There are also other areas which may help the event run smoothly. That could be desk phones (really helps when you need a reliable, secure, phone with a number than can be published prior to the event) printers, CCTV system (areas which need to be covered)

We help lots of customers design their specification before taking it to the market to ensure they are sourcing either as part of a brief phone call or a formal tender development engagement. A clear list of requirements helps the customer enforce what they asked for, and the supplier understand what they are providing. A little time invested in getting the specification correct reduces the risk of confusion and issues later on.

Welcome to the event technology myth busters! Just like the popular American show (Mythbusters –  check it out!) we will be taking myths we hear about from customers and proving, once and for all, if they are true, busted or plausible!Event Technology Myths

GPRS (mobile phone) PDQ systems are unreliable at events – TRUE

GPRS payment terminals are designed to connect to the same technology as your mobile phone so it stands to reason if your mobile phone is working it will, right? Right. Generally, GPRS networks operate really well and the unit works all over the place. The exception to this, unfortunately for those in the events industry, is that when the mobile phone network suffers from overload the terminals will have the same issue as you making a call. The majority of the mobile phone network is designed for large scale coverage area, not high density (such as 30,000 people in a field). If you are going to try and use a PDQ terminal in this type of situation it is much better to hire a cabled or Wi-Fi terminal as part of the event provision at the same time as you request services such as power.

Optic Fibre internet is always expensive – BUSTED

Optic fibre internet (sometimes called leased lines) is the best type of connectivity. It’s dedicated (just for you), has a fast support process and is generally very reliable. If your home broadband is like a B Road (narrow, busy and sometimes blocked unexpectedly) then optic fibre is the three lane motorway. Getting a motorway to your door can be expensive but for many locations it is now cost effective, especially over 3 or 5 years. Tricks to keeping the costs down? Order early, order from the right supplier and plan for the future, for example order a link with the highest capacity possible, just run it at a slower speed until you need more.

You can generate good revenue from charging for use of public Wi-Fi networks – BUSTED

It seems so obvious – deploy a public Wi-Fi network at an event and attendees will flock to it and pay to get a good service when the mobile networks become overloaded. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case as attendees are cautious about public Wi-Fi and do not like paying for it. This should not be a surprise considering most other public Wi-Fi in cafes, shopping centres, etc. is free at point of use or users get free access via an existing account such BT or Vodafone. Then add in the fact that at most events the attendee is paying to enter the event and you can see why they are reluctant to pay again.

Recovering the cost of deploying public Wi-Fi has to be a lot more creative – it is all about the content and the usage data. Lots of platforms out there now quickly and effectively collect marketing information from those using the service, such as email addresses, social media information, sites visited, etc. All of which can either be used for your own or other activations. Those using the networks need to agree, but many do once they appreciate the service has to be paid for in some way!

That’s it for this issue! More to come over the next few weeks including; Do all venues have sufficient internet access? Can wireless networks be customised with logos and text? Does streaming always suffer from site unless it has its own connection? Is satellite internet a good option for all events?

The last month has been busy at the Etherlive offices with projects including the London New Year Fireworks, the London Boat Show, the auction of the 2 millionth defender and of course the Christmas break!

Alongside this several new team members have joined Etherlive in our Wiltshire offices including:

Dan Saunders – Joins Etherlive with a strong background in deploying the latest and greatest technology at events with his most recent role in the area of acoustic management. As part of the pre-sales team Dan will work with event organisers on their requirements, discussing their goals and building the technical specification.

Colin Paxton – Joins Etherlive to lead the Operations team. With significant experience in the AV sector Colin is responsible for the logistics and planning team who ensure that projects are delivered seamlessly. Working closely with the engineering groups Colin has already ensured events which need to change their schedules at short notice get the support they need to keep the event on track.

Welcome Dan and Colin!

Colin Paxton and Dan Saunders join Etherlive

October 21st 2015 is well known as Back to the Future Day – the date Marty and the Doc travel forward to from 1985 in the blockbuster Back to the Future II – but it’s also the first day of the Showman’s Show 2015. Coincidence? We don’t think so.

For our 8th year Etherlive will be manning stand 65 within the main exhibition hall to meet old friends and make new ones. We will be showing off the latest and greatest technology for those running events around the world.

We may not have flying cars and hover boards but we do have ubiquitous connectivity, contactless payment, HD CCTV, high quality Wi-Fi and plenty of other futuristic services on display including:

High Speed Satellite – Delivering high speed internet at short notice, satellite systems have continued to evolve and are now available for a range of budgets. Quick to setup and effective Etherlive have deployed over 200 systems in 2015 alone ranging from media centres to fashion launches and production teams.

Robust Wi-Fi – The core of any deployment, Wi-Fi delivers the internet to those who need it reliably over large areas. Etherlive has continued to invest in the latest generation hardware capable of meeting the most demanding outdoor environments and high density requirements.

Payment Systems – A continued driving force for connectivity at events is the ability to process transactions quickly and effectively. Working with partners Etherlive has validated the best systems to rely upon.

People Counting – Quick and reliable systems which integrate with Etherlive CCTV or other CCTV systems to provide accurate counting for gates, pinch points or stages. Key data points form part of the Event View suite of tools which empower organisers with critical information about their events.

We’ll be on stand 65 (with chocolate and coffee) – see you there!

Etherlive back to the future

We don’t need wires where we’re going!

Last week I was lucky enough to visit one of our customer deployments providing site wide high speed Wi-Fi for a leading retailer who was launching (hold your breath) their Christmas range to the worldwide media

Mistletoe, fake snow and Santa hats seem funny against a sunny London day but it did remind me that Christmas comes all to quickly and those preparing events are already well into planning

As that planning takes place our 4 key questions for Christmas;

How will payment be taken?

Last year we saw a large uptick in events looking to guarantee payment transactions. GPRS terminals can struggle during busy events or when indoors so many are using products like iZettle [] or chip and pin terminals powered by a local network.

How will security be maintained?

Nothing replaced highly trained, focused, security teams but CCTV systems can provide crucial evidence if required. Systems can now be deployed wirelessly monitoring those that enter and exit as well as general activity. Systems can be set to automatically ‘tour’ so don’t need to be actively monitored. High definition level images mean the important details can be captured and remote access means those who need images can quickly download the data.

How can footfall be increased?

The demand for ‘public’ wifi continues to increase as those at events look to settle down with a drink (coco?) and enjoy the atmosphere. Using Wi-Fi hotspots in areas can drive traffic or get those on site to stay a little longer and spend that little extra

How do you know many people visited?

Clicking people in remains the order of the day for most events but intelligent counting systems have increased in simplicity and can provide highly granular reporting against the various times or day and most popular access areas. Useful for those looking to build a profile of the event for sponsors or activations and those managing staff allocation.

So far the summer season is priority number one but before we know it Christmas is upon us.