We all know maintaining an exciting, engaging live event experience whilst maintaining social distancing is going to be a challenge. We have been working with several customers to plan out what live music and events might look like in the new normal. Technology is a key element of this offering, reducing barriers between the experience and the attendee, and assisting in keeping everyone safe.

On-Site Apps

Previously seen as a barrier, mobile apps are now the new enabler. Ordering food, drinks, merchandise and just getting updated information about the event will, for the moment, pivot around mobile devices. From the process of ordering through to the delivery via location tracking, apps will form a key part of getting the shows going again, this of course has to be coupled with a reliable infrastructure to ensure the app works for everyone.

Contactless Payments

There has been a steady rise year on year in contactless payment systems at events but the current situation should finally push cash out altogether. Ensuring payments can be taken reliably via an app or on mobile contactless terminals is critical.

Connected Production

Most of the media coverage focusses on audience safety but putting on an event requires a big team of people working together from many different groups. Keeping the production teams, artists, press, contactors, etc. in close communication but not in close contact will put extra strain on the underlying services. From basic internet access and Wi-Fi, to phones, radios and CCTV, all components need to be addressed to ensure the capacity is there, and in cases such as phones, radios and CCTV viewing, ensuring that they do not introduce an additional contamination risk. We see production internet requirements increasing by around 20% year on year, so it is key to have sufficient bandwidth to keep operational.

Number Plate Recognition

Reduce the wait on arrival by linking the vehicles number plate with the ticket. Our cameras can quickly scan the plate and give the operator a green signal to pass

CCTV & Thermal Detection

Using additional cameras for event management can help reduce the number of staff in close proximity to attendees and, although not a guarantee, thermal cameras monitoring skin surface temperatures can help identify any high risk attendees for further checks before allowing entry.

People Counting

For more enclosed areas managing the density of people can be assisted by adding automated counting systems or even ‘traffic light’ systems controlling access. Although not ideal these are already becoming the norm in shopping situations so people are becoming more accepting.

Live Audio Relay

With more distanced audiences, especially with in-car/near car experiences using additional services can help enhance the experience, this could be live relays of the audio and video but these have technical challenges which need to be considered early on.

Many of the changes needed at live events are not the most desirable but at least it helps get the industry moving again.

Can We Help?

Speak to our team today 01666 800129 or email hello@etherlive.co.uk for quotes and discuss how we can help your event embrace the new normal

Remote Working

In the current environment with a real possibility of travel restrictions and companies being encouraged or possibly forced to have their employees work from home it is essential to review IT service capabilities to ensure they can continue to operate if these scenarios play out. For large companies with a dedicated IT department this is routine practice but for smaller businesses IT contingency is often overlooked but it doesn’t have to be an onerous task.

It is likely that the majority of a company’s IT services are either ‘on-premise’, meaning they are hosted within the company’s physical building or ‘cloud-hosted’, either as a fully managed service, such as Microsoft Office 365, or located in a data centre such as Amazon Web Services. Starting with the on-premise arrangement there are a few key areas to check and address.

Internet Connectivity Capacity

Not surprisingly it is often the case that the office internet capacity is thought about from the aspect of employees working in the office not the situation where they are all at home trying to remotely access services and this can put a different type of demand on the service.

The situation can be further exasperated if the existing connectivity is ‘non-symmetric’, where the download speed is higher than the upload speed, as is the case with services such BT Infinity and other FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) offerings. In these cases when the users are remote the ‘upload’ speed becomes the critical factor since that is what will limit the external employees accessing the services.

Extra capacity may be needed via additional services or by ‘bursting’ the speed on fibre services, either of which may take time to install or activate. There are various options possible, each with their own time and cost implications.

Virtual Private Networks (VPN)

Most users access their office networks via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), typically a piece of software which securely connects them to their office network. It is not unusual for the ‘hub’ at the office to have concurrent user restrictions either via licencing or just simply down to performance. It is wise to understand what the limit is and whether it can be increased to avoid the situation where only some of the employees can connect at any one time.

Remote System Management

If the situation arises that all employees are working from home then managing the IT services on-site from home is also key, this needs to cover everything from basic administration using software to scenarios where systems may need restarting manually using specialist tools. At the same time it would be wise to ensure some form of monitoring is in place on those systems which can alert support staff if problems arise.

Telephony

The approach for telephony will depend very much on what is currently being used. If traditional phone lines or ISDN telephony are relied upon then the only option may be basic call forwarding. One step up from this could be the introduction of a VoIP (Voice over IP) service with the existing numbers forwarded to that service.

For those already using VoIP there are more options. If the service is cloud-based, then it should be straight forward for users to use this service from home, either with a physical VoIP phone or a ‘softphone’ which is a piece of software which runs on a laptop or mobile phone.

Where a company runs its own VoIP PBX then a similar approach should be possible but this may need some firewall configuration and checks on internet capacity.

Communication & Collaboration Tools

With all employees working from home effective communication and collaboration is critical and at a minimum an instant messaging application should be in place for everyone. If no existing on-premise services are in place then it may be most efficient to utilise one of the many cloud-based solutions, however, if existing aspects are operating on-premise then ensuring these can be used remotely should be on the checklist.

Cloud-Based Services

Where the key IT services are outsourced to a cloud provider a few different aspects need to be considered. The first aspect is a fall-back plan. Although the big providers like Microsoft & Google have significant capacity and high reliability there is always the risk that they will have a major outage. Although painful during normal operating times, an outage when all employees are at home would have a major impact. At a minimum there should be a documented plan as to what the approach will be in such a situation and preferably this should extend to back-up services – this may be as simple as holding information on alternative personal email addresses for all employees in case the primary service fails.

If the company is hosting their own cloud services in a data centre then remote management is important, but this is likely to be in place already. Capacity should also be checked but it would be expected that this would be suitable given it would not make much difference in this scenario as to whether users are at home or in the office.

Remote Worker Preparation

The final aspect of preparation is the actual home workers. Each employee needs a suitable device, preferably a laptop for the best flexibility or otherwise a PC. This could be the users own PC if they are happy for additional software to be installed. Depending on the set-up it may also be necessary to provide an external keyboard and mouse, and possibly a monitor, to maintain a good ergonomic set-up for long working hours at home. For effective voice communication a USB headset is a good investment.

Any home working scenarios is only going to be productive if the user has suitable internet connectivity. A poor ADSL connection is unlikely to be good enough for anything above basic email sending and browsing. If audio calls, video conferencing such as Skype or Microsoft Teams and cloud-based collaboration is going to be used then extra capacity is likely to be needed.

The only short-term solution may be to provide a 4G Mi-Fi unit or 4G Router if the worker has a good signal from one of the operators, but this could rack up significant data costs. Alternatively, it may make sense to assist with the employee upgrading to a better service if it is available but this may take time.

The homeworker also needs to test all the components before any policy is enacted, this should include checking access and operation of all the tools such as a softphone, conferencing system, messaging services and collaboration tools.

With employees potentially out of the office for a period of time, all laptops or PCs should have some form of remote management tools so that any problems can be dealt with by technical staff.

This may look like a long list but with suitable support these aspects can be covered quickly and a plan drawn up. A small amount of time spent now getting everything in place could save a lot of lost productivity later on and, as a side benefit, enable a longer-term flexible working environment which is more productive for everyone.

Remote working though is much more than just a set of tools, it requires changes to behaviours and processes to be effective but getting the tools in place is the first step.

Before joining Etherlive I was an Event Manager for a large event organiser. It involved a lot of travel and I got to work with some fantastic brands and customers.

My brief when joining Etherlive was to develop a greater relationship with exhibition and corporate event professionals. Many events they are operating continue to rely on poor technology, either from venues or from in house IT teams who don’t have the time or bandwidth to focus on one event or another.

Whilst thinking about how best to show what Etherlive can do, it got me thinking about what I used to attend, Mash Medias International Confex. This year taking place in the enormous Excel. So, I developed a plan and we have agreed to be one of the sponsors for the event. This includes a VIP drinks evening on the first night (Tuesday 25th Feb) anyone who wants to come along please let me know!

Its all about engagement and showing corporate and event organisers they don’t have to live with the IT from the venue – there are other options!

Planning the stand has been fun – since it’s Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day!) we have decided to host a pancake flipping competition! You will spot us a mile off with our Etherlive aprons and prizes including classy prosecco!

As part of our learning series of speaking events our directors Chris Green and Tom McInerney will be speaking in sessions on both days.

Tom will be speaking on Day 1 at 11:40am in the eventTech theatre about technology for sustainable events and then at 1.45pm on the main stage at Event Production Show about Sports Synergies and Opportunities for the wider Event Industry.

Chris will be speaking on Day 2 at 2pm in the eventTech theatre discussing what are the hottest trends in exhibition and meetings right now, and what this will mean for Wi-Fi connectivity and capability.

So please come and find out why Etherlive are so flipping great either on stand I32C, during one of the three talks or/and at the International Confex drinks reception.

It has been a busy few weeks. Having left the event organiser world a few weeks ago, it has been fascinating to see what life is like on ‘the other side of the fence’ in the supplier world.

Having now spent countless hours working through white board sessions and being taught about equipment I didn’t even know existed… (who ever thought I would be challenged to configure the IP mangle on a router!) I have learnt a lot about the technology that makes the smallest, and largest events happen.

I have been to see some amazing events; product launches, exhibitions and sports competitions, all of which increasingly rely on technology behind the scenes to make the event work from ticketing partners, people counting, internet and Wi-Fi.

So what have I learnt?

Venue surveys – I didn’t even know what these were before starting at Etherlive, having not arranged one for any of my events, but they are a common request with indoor events. This helps when trying to evaluate multiple venues or to identify gaps in the chosen venue which may cost to fix, this then gets written into the hire contract for the venue to fix and means the budget doesn’t fall on the event.

Intelligent Event Network – A lot of the event networks/Wi-Fi systems deployed by Etherlive are self-monitoring and ‘healing’ which means less downtime and greater speeds. Each network operates across several segments which report to a central system, so any issues are identified quickly. 

People Counting – Etherlive has three systems it uses depending on what data is required, from overhead cameras to using existing CCTV cameras but the main one which is interesting to exhibitions is small enough to be dropped around a stand or area and gives you engagement if the person stays for a while or passes by. This information is collected anonymously from any Wi-Fi device.

This week I travelled up to Yorkshire to the UCI Road World Championships where Etherlive is the technology partner – it was great to see behind the scenes and learn what our talented engineers get up to!

Working alongside and within venues is something that many event organisers have to deal with. From stadiums hosting concerts, to inner city hotels hosting training seminars and press launches.

One thing they all have in common is that they are used to hosting a lot of events, from the smallest to the largest, but when does the organiser know to call in help for the technical elements?

Set your expectations

Venues do what they normally do very well, whether that’s bedrooms, sports events, food or whatever. It doesn’t mean they can do something on the scale the event needs. When considering IT we generally liken it to the screen in most conference rooms. If you need an internal presentation or meeting for 20 staff then the screen in the conference room is probably enough, but if the event called for something special, you would bring in an AV Company. It’s the same with IT. If it’s just Wi-Fi for 20 then it’s probably fine, but if its critical, or for lots of people, then it needs to be checked.

Validate what’s really on site

This will sound like a dig at venues. It isn’t. But in many cases people don’t understand what technology the venue has or its limitations. They are normally reporting something from someone else in the organisation (perhaps an in-house IT team) who won’t be there on the morning of live trying to sort it out. The only way to understand what’s on site is to get on site and look around. A good IT partner can help by setting up a quick phone call with the venue, if technical questions are being answered quickly and with detail, it’s probably correct, if there is a lot of referring to others who are not on the call…red flags should start waving.

Identify your risks

Once you understand what you expect and what is there, then it’s about identifying your risks and what mitigation you want in place. This generally comes down to how important something is. For example, if a web based stream is the core of an event (perhaps an international manager briefing teams across the UK) then there needs to be a second internet connection in place.

When we look at the most ‘high stress’ events it generally tends to be those at venues. Normally because someone asked what was in place, it was confirmed as ok, but then on the day things become difficult and reality bites. Avoid that pain at all costs!

Wi-Fi, internet and CCTV have become increasingly critical to events due to the amount of systems relying on mission critical IT systems, so its worth getting an expert on your team to help work out what to do, keep your specification clear and your suppliers honest. This blog provides some top tips on what to consider when planning all things technical for your event.

Firstly, separate Wi-Fi from the actual internet connection. Imagine Wi-Fi is your home shower head and the internet is the mains water supply, both must be working well to get a good experience.  The better the internet supply the better your experience will be. Even poor Wi-Fi equipment can do a reasonable job of providing access assuming it’s deployed sensibly, the best Wi-Fi equipment can’t do anything with a poor internet connection.

Event networks have become increasingly critical on event sites, connecting systems such as payment terminals, EPOS, ticketing, sound monitoring, CCTV, catering, sponsors, production and telephony across large areas. In many cases the networks being deployed are considerably more complex than a large office. Added to that complexity is the time pressure of deployment and many unknowns such as third parties plugging in equipment, or last-minute sponsors.

Understanding the Costs – Generally internet access is the single most expensive item on the quote, typically followed by resource and then everything else. The best method to reduce the internet connection charge is to ensure you have a handle on how much internet you need, and then get it installed permanently (usually over 3 years).

Get on board with the tech – Or, as mentioned, get someone on your team who does. Like power or security on site the more you understand it, the more you can identify what you want and what is important enough to pay for.

Should I worry about Wi-Fi interference? – The issues with interference (i.e. getting a connection from the Wi-Fi access point to your device) are common. Because all Wi-Fi is unlicensed, and in some cases shared with other technologies, interference is always there, it’s either low enough not to be a big issue, or enough to become a big issue. Of the two frequencies Wi-Fi operates at (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz) 5Ghz performs better and has more channels so even if other networks are operating around you, there is more chance of getting a good experience. However, because it’s a higher frequency 5Ghz can’t travel through as many obstructions (such as walls). 

Get ready for power requirements – Networks tend to be deployed from central points outwards. They require power at most points (network cables can carry power up to around 90 metres) which should be 24/7, otherwise when everything gets turned on every morning issues are bound to happen.

Consider what support you need – Consider what type of support you would like for first day services, build, live, break and last day. Remote support is fine with an understanding about when an engineer could visit if required. It helps to have someone semi-technical on the crew who can be on the phone with an engineer since most things can be fixed remotely, issues arise when even the internet connection is down so the remote engineers have no visibility to what’s happening on site.

Consider your security – It is common to see network names and passwords up on the wall. This is fine, although not secure! But also tends to lead to high levels of people connecting, even those just walking through the production area. This can be difficult to control so many events now choose to use individual usernames and passwords (perhaps printed on the rear of their access credentials) which means internet limits can be applied per person not per network.

Have a backup plan (Risk Mitigation) – Always consider plan A and plan B. Any supplier should do that for you, but you don’t want critical systems such as ticketing or payment terminals to fall over mid show. Plan B may be totally manual and changing systems back to cash for example.

Data after the event – A major aspect that is often overlooked is understanding what the event used in terms of internet and phone systems. Do you need the same again next year? If a phone wasn’t used could it be dropped? If the internet is constantly under too much load (but budget isn’t available to increase it) can you control access better?

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.

3G-4G-5G

Pretty much every day I’m either asked or told about the way 5G is going to ‘change everything’. I’m currently sitting on a train on my way into Paddington and my 4G connection has dropped multiple times and when it is connected the speed varies from a trickle to occasional bursts that reflect the speeds I would expect on 4G. We all crave ubiquitous connectivity at a good speed but the reality is somewhat behind the hype.

I’m reading yet another article saying that 5G will deliver speeds in excess of 20Gbps and I’ll be able to download a HD movie in a few seconds. Ridiculous claims which accompany most technology launches – the claims for 4G were 1Gbps but the experience, in the best case, is at least a magnitude lower.

We have come a long way from GPRS when any data access was painfully slow but each technology step forward becomes more complex, more costly and delivers less of a step function change to the user. In reality when 5G is deployed into the world it will meet a mixture of technical and commercial challenges which will reduce the hype to more of a ‘4G evolution’ – it will be better, and that’s great, but not the revolution promised, at least not initially.

One of the problems is that 5G needs to operate across multiple frequencies. This is not a new technical challenge, the same type of approach is used for 3G and 4G networks, however, some of the frequencies required to make 5G work are much higher up in the spectrum, known as millimetre waves (mmwaves). These very high frequencies are where the headline speeds of 20Gbps come from, but there is a problem – these very high frequencies require line of sight to the mobile device and are heavily impacted by rain, trees, buildings, etc. Millimetre waves also have a low range so the deployment of the infrastructure is complex and requires many more antennas (base stations or cell towers) than the lower frequencies of today. It’s also worth noting that new handsets will be required to use these new frequencies so there will be a long period where many devices will not have the required circuitry inside to make use of the higher speeds.

If you consider that today a good example of 4G may deliver 10-50Mbps depending on various factors, it is expected that 5G may reach 100-200Mbps in similar circumstances – that’s a good increase but it isn’t 20Gbps, and it certainly will not be available widely, not in the short to medium term. As for remote locations they will be stuck on the lower frequencies which will restrict what can be offered.

As with Wi-Fi the connection speed is only half the problem, the backhaul internet connection is just as important and to support many users all expecting 5G speeds of 100Mbps requires a massive upgrade to the supporting fibre and wireless backhaul networks. Ignoring the significant cost implications of all this the practicalities of deploying the infrastructure is going to take time and it is expected that it will be at least 2022 before we see any serious progress on 5G.

So what does this mean for events?

The first thing to note is that on mobile devices over 60% of data traffic is carried over Wi-Fi networks rather than the mobile networks and that figure has grown, not shrunk, over the last few years. With mobile operators still recovering the cost of a 4G infrastructure, now faced with an even more expensive 5G infrastructure, the data plans are not going to get any cheaper so the cost conscious consumer will still hunt out Wi-Fi wherever possible.

Although a 5G speed of 200Mbps sounds great a good Wi-Fi network today can deliver speeds well over 200Mbps and already approved Wi-Fi standards go much further (The existing 802.11ac standard goes up to 3.45Gbps) so for the really serious data users Wi-Fi will remain the primary choice. It’s not a case of 5G versus Wi-Fi, both will co-exist – they are designed differently for different purposes – but in the event space Wi-Fi will be continue to be a pre-requisite for many years yet.

As with 4G the initial deployments of 5G will be focused on cities with a high density of users, less dense areas will be some way off and of course the countryside fields used for many outdoor events will be no better served than they are today as commercially it makes no sense unless a particular sponsor wants to put in temporary masts.

With the low range nature of the high frequency 5G spectrum what this does mean is that indoor venues such as conference centres could well be a target for early deployments given the business orientated footfall who are more likely to have handsets capable of using the 5G network. Another good example would be large stadiums but, in a similar way to Wi-Fi, in these locations the cost of infrastructure to support the density of users is significant so it will come down to who will pay.

Venue owners who want mobile coverage to be good in their venue but expect the mobile operators to pay have to consider that mobile operators can struggle to recoup the costs of a dedicated install as they generate no additional revenue from it. The use of shared infrastructure between mobile operators may help this but it doesn’t change the fact that someone has to pay.

Once 3G reached wide deployment then it became a viable option for using it to provide the backhaul internet connection in some circumstances with Wi-Fi as the access medium. 4G continued that trend and 5G will go further but limitations still apply. 5G is a shared medium so overall performance will depend on other users unless dedicated bandwidth is offered (something that is hard to do on 4G), so in an event environment as the number of attendees goes up the performance goes down.

With 4G operators have been reluctant to offer dedicated bandwidth over their infrastructure, something that would be fantastic for events. Perhaps this will change with 5G but even then, with the price of dedicated fibre circuits continuing to fall, shared services such as FTTP (Fibre To The Premise) now becoming available and improving Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) offerings the pricing from the mobile operators would have to be very competitive.

Without any guaranteed bandwidth then 5G is no different to 4G which means that it is fine for general use but if the performance is critical then there are no guarantees. You would not want to risk your ticketing, payment systems, video streams and core control systems on a mobile network over which you have no control but for less critical services it may be an option.

Over time 5G will provide another option in the event toolbag as a step forward from 4G but its real benefit will be to the truly mobile individual user and then hopefully on a train journey into London I can get a consistent 20Mbps all the way, but I fear that ideal is still quite a few years away.