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.

‘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.

A Career in EventsYou can get a great buzz out of attending a good event, and if you organise it the buzz is even better. Every successful event requires a team of dedicated professionals with a range of skills but often the event industry isn’t considered as a career choice.

At the recent ESSA (Event Supplier and Services Association) AGM a fantastic video was shown about working in the events industry. It really speaks to how passionate those of us in the industry are about making event magic happen, mostly behind the scenes working with festivals, exhibitions, corporate launches, sporting events and one-off special events like a Royal Wedding!

We welcomed our 4th full year intern last year, and this year we will be taking on two more to support our growing engineering teams in the field. For the first time this year we also have an apprentice, a great way to get exposure in the events world, so if you know anyone looking to take that first step don’t forget about the events industry.

Of course, those with more experience are just as welcome, our company like many others is built on the years of experience gaining from all quarters including large and small companies.

We do all have one thing in common, we are one team and we love events!

GDPR, CCTV and EventsIs this yet another GDPR article? Yes, but before you click on past, this article is a bit more specific, focussing on Event Organisers and a few important aspects relating to them.

If you have somehow managed to miss the basics here is a quick recap (otherwise skip the next two paragraphs). GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation, comes into force on May 28th 2018 and is as dull as the name suggests but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. GDPR is, in effect, a beefier version of the Data Protection Act and there are some significant aspects which have changed.

First off, the fines if you are found to be breaching the regulations could be huge – up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover (up to €20 million). Secondly, the onus with GDPR is focussed much more on how and why, with supporting documentation – no more simply ticking a box to say you comply. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, with GDPR there is much more appetite to enforce, along with more resources to audit.

Nearly all of the material currently circulating is focussed around the more obvious areas of customer, supplier and employee data; everything from email addresses to bank accounts and the harvesting of information from websites, social media and direct mail campaigns. This is all valid and needs to be considered seriously, however, for events there are some additional areas which could too easily be overlooked.

CCTV

CCTV is not necessarily something that initially comes to mind when it comes to GDPR but it is very much part of it. The holding and releasing of CCTV footage is already well controlled but the new regulations go much further requiring information on camera placement, field of view and reasoning for coverage needed, coupled with proof of deployment and signage. This is a significant uplift for events compared to the current approach and will need to be factored into planning and deployment from the start.

It is also important to note that ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition), drone and body-worn cameras will all need to be assessed too.

In practical terms, we are now expecting all temporary CCTV installations at events to undergo an audit during the build phase documenting the camera locations and reasoning for those locations. Field of view into public areas external to the event is especially important.

Agreement on how long footage is held for, the release process and who can receive the footage will also need to be under much tighter control.

Public Internet Access

Many events allow public access to the internet on an event Wi-Fi network after a ‘splash page’ which may capture details such as an email address to be used after the event to send marketing information. In the future this information is more controlled and must use explicit ‘opt-in’ clauses before the email address can be used.

Even the logging of an IP address (the identifier used when a device connects to the network) coupled with the user information is governed by GDPR, however, this information is required to be stored under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) so the way it is stored and who has access to it is very important.

For events which offer public internet access the method of access and what information is captured and stored will need to be reviewed, with likely changes to the Terms & Conditions and opt-in statements.

Supplier & Volunteer Registration Systems

Employee and customer data is called out in nearly all GDPR overviews but it is important to remember that GDPR covers all data including anything recorded for suppliers and volunteers. Any system (paper or electronic) which stores personal information must be assessed including aspects such as what information is stored, where it is stored, how it is stored, how it is used, how the owner can remove it and who has access.

Visitor/Attendee Information

Any personally identifiable information gathered on attendees, such as an email address falls under the same regulations – this could be via initial ticket purchase, attendee registration or at the event itself. Particular attention must be paid to any direct marketing as the attendee must explicitly opt in to any future communications and have means to update or remove their information.

Many of these areas are likely to require a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), this is a new tool and process which must be used when new technology is used or when there is high risk to individuals.

The new regulations also broaden the scope of ‘personal information’ to cover just about everything from a name, email or social information through to genetic, economic and cultural information. The holding of this information has to be shown to have positive, clear consent from the individual using ‘plain English’ type agreements.

An individual must be given the ability to view and update information, and importantly has the right ‘to be forgotten’, which means complete removal from all systems.

These changes may initially look very onerous, however, a lot can be covered by a sensible review and improvements to existing processes. The important thing is not to ignore it – the changes are coming and a lack of preparation will not be a defence if you are found to be in breach.

For events we work on we will be working closely with organisers to assist and make sure all aspects are covered, providing templates and guidance wherever possible. If you would like to discuss any aspect of GDPR impact on your event then please contact us and we will be happy to help.