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

People at concert shooting video or photo.

Only a few years ago communication from attendees at an event consisted of the occasional phone call (if you could make one) and maybe a text or two. The phenomenal success of smart phones and social media has changed all that at a pace no one was expecting.

We raced through textual commentary and onto photo commentary within a couple of years, a development which saw a huge shift in network demand on event sites, the few bytes of a text message replaced by megabytes of high resolution photos.

Now we are seeing the next shift into video, initially starting as a ‘record and upload’ approach but rapidly shifting to live video streaming with some current generation smartphones capable of 4K ultra HD video at more than 50Mbps! Last week Facebook announced Live Video, their offering in the live video streaming arena to compete with Periscope and Meerkat, a reflection on how fast the area of personal video streaming is moving. The key point is that Facebook Live Video is integrated into their main application removing a barrier to usage and fuelling more rapid adoption across its massive existing user base.

The data demands of such use are vast, especially in a high density environment such as an event and therefore, for the moment, this is likely to restrict the growth to some degree, however, it is happening and with it comes a significant shift in thinking about how content from live events is managed.

Putting aside the technical pressures on event networks in terms of capacity the real question is about the content. We have seen the shift from ‘no cameras’ to a reluctant acceptance that the control of photos from event sites is pretty much impossible, even though many artists do not like the sea of people watching events through their phones. Increasingly there is some acceptance of a time shifted amateur video appearing on YouTube but the idea of real-time video streaming takes the subject of content management to a new level.

For organisers, promoters and artists the question is do you try and stop it from occurring using either technical or physical approaches, or accept it and turn it to an advantage. Technically restricting video streaming on an event managed and controlled Wi-Fi network is perfectly feasible but on the 3G/4G mobile network services it would come down to discussions with those operators as to whether they would be prepared to block streaming from specific cell towers during an event which is unlikely, although in reality at present it is unlikely these networks would be reliable enough to support a video stream.

Alternatively, rather than trying to block at source, a continuous scan of live streaming services to identify and remove streams could be employed but the effort required to do this would be huge and would not be successful without the support of the service providers such as Facebook & Periscope.

Physically trying to control it becomes a question as to how strong do you get with identifying and removing abusers, an approach which can cause tension between fans and artists, would require additional resource to police and would never be entirely successful.

Is the answer then to accept and adopt, finding ways to benefit from this new communications channel? Does it really harm the event or the artists to have boundless unmanaged content strewn across the internet? On the other hand, do you want someone wandering around backstage streaming everything? Or someone in the front row streaming what could be a surprisingly high quality and atmospheric video? It’s a copyright nightmare but potentially provides massive exposure.

Technology is not only at the source of this issue it is also likely to be part of the solution too but not before event organisers decide on approach. One thing we do know from technology over the last twenty years is that it cannot be ignored, it is the ultimate disruptor and will always find a way of winning through.


Your Vote Counts!

Exhibition News has opened up nominations for their ‘Elite list’ which identifies the best suppliers in the events industry. In the past we have been proud winners of the Wiltshire Business Innovation and Growth Award, an Event Production Award and finalists in the Event Technology Awards amongst others.

If you think we have done a great job, it would be great if you can spare a moment and vote for us in category 3 – Technology Provider by clicking the link below.



NFC contactless are the next evolution

“Smartcard to wipe out cash”, a headline which sounds like it may have been used any time in the last few years, is actually taken from the Evening Standard in 1993 just before the launch of Mondex, one of the earliest smart card cashless payment systems.

Launched in Swindon, UK Mondex promised to revolutionise payments using what today is known as a ‘closed loop’ system where money is transferred to a smart card containing a chip and the card is then used to pay for items using a special reader until the virtual cash is used up.

It sounded great and launched to much fanfare but four years later it quietly disappeared never to be heard of again. Its lack of success is generally cited as being down to the hassle of loading the cash, the limited locations at which it could be used and the infrastructure required to support it. Soon after this chip & pin started to emerge offering an ‘open loop’ solution whereby the cash is debited directly from your bank account and within a few years this became the norm.

Skip forward twenty years and it feels like we are seeing history repeat itself.

For the last five years or so the talk of cashless payment at events has fuelled many a debate but the implementation and adoption in the UK at least has been very slow and fraught with issues. The basic idea has been the same as Mondex all those years ago – a closed loop system with the chip (now wirelessly contactable) typically embedded in a wrist band rather than a card.

Many of the same challenges still exist today – the hassle of adding credit to the wristband, the dedicated infrastructure required, limited areas of acceptance and redeeming unused balances. Then there is the user aspect, many of the benefits are for the organiser and promotor rather than the attendee. This is coupled with attendees having concerns about too much information being made available to the event about their purchases and payments.

The aforementioned issues with closed loop systems have allowed the next generation of open loop contactless systems to gain adoption at a much faster rate. Open loop contactless using an existing debit or credit card is a natural progression from chip & pin and removes many of the hurdles seen with closed loop. It is quite telling when one of the world’s largest closed loop systems – Transport for London’s Oyster card – is now moving to an open loop approach.

What is interesting is that in some countries there has been higher adoption of closed loop – the US for example. The US were much faster to the chip & pin party but have been behind the curve on contactless and this may have left a window for closed loop in the short term.

The question is where does this leave events who have several drivers to move to a cashless environment. With the rapid adoption of open loop contactless in day to day life coupled with several disrupters like Apple Pay, Android Pay and PayPal Here, all of which use an open loop approach with NFC (Near Field Communications) embedded in smart devices, the modern generation of event goers will move to the trusted services and closed loop will quietly die away.

What remains is the challenge at events in terms of how to deal with smart reader based payments as the infrastructure cost can be a hurdle to adoption. There are several components to this:

Universal Payment Terminals – The banking world needs to move faster in providing good quality payment terminals that are certified across multiple methods of communication (wired, Wi-Fi & mobile data) and multiple payment methods (chip & pin, contactless & NFC). Today different terminals have to be used depending on the connection method and payment type which means merchants have to hire terminals for use at events because they cannot use their normal terminal. A universal terminal would also make deployment on event sites much easier and cost effective.

Merchant IDs – Many smaller traders at events do not have the magic ‘Merchant ID’ required to set-up card based payment terminals. Merchant IDs are controlled by payment houses and can be costly and complex for very small businesses so a better mechanism is needed to facilitate access to open loop systems for those traders. This sounds like an easy area but it has some complexities due to money laundering issues. Systems such as iZettle help with this but carry (generally) higher fees.

Access to Data – A difference between closed loop and open loop for a promotor or organiser is the ability to easily access usage data. As closed loop is in the control of the organiser they get full visibility (although this can be seen as a negative by attendees). With open loop the data is held by the payment providers so to get a better view across the entire event (involving many merchant IDs) some form of agreed consolidated reporting would remove the concerns organisers have about visibility.

Providing Infrastructure – Open loop systems tend to have a slightly higher requirement when it comes to readers being connected to a network (although many closed loop systems are not as offline as promoted). A modern event has such high requirements in other areas for connectivity that adding in payment systems is not the concern it once was. It is now well accepted that providing access to contactless card based payments drives a higher spend so it should be recognised that an increased spend on infrastructure will reap returns overall.

In the last few years we have seen a rapid swing to providing a resilient payment environment across events and the feedback is very positive – fast and easy transactions, and an increased spend by attendees. It just needs more support from the banking world to resolve the last few issues and make the cashless (or near cashless) event a reality.


Swindon Advertiser – How Smart was that?


We may be heading into UK winter but Etherlive are already busy planning for the summer of 2016. We are always on the lookout for new recruits with opportunities for students and seasoned professionals for the peak summer season. Our environment does not suit everyone, this is IT with a difference; tight deadlines, indoors and outdoors across the UK and Europe, with events ranging from business briefings to large music festivals, these are roles for people who thrive on challenge, can demonstrate problem solving and who have excellent communication skills.

Our teams deploy technology services which support some of the largest and greatest events throughout the UK and Europe. Etherlive is the power behind the scenes which helps the production crews, security, artists and broadcasters bring their events to the millions who attend.

For some roles excellent technical knowledge is required, especially around wireless technologies and core IT such as TCP/IP, networking and server management but for others it is customer skills and project management that are key. Knowledge of the events industry, particularly outdoor events and festivals is an advantage but not essential.

We will be running a series of wide ranging skills and training workshops throughout the winter and spring so whatever your skillset or experience we are keen to hear from energetic and enterprising candidates with a passion for working in the events industry.

Those looking to apply should be ready to spend periods working away from home, sometimes several weeks. In the first instance please send your CV and a covering letter to introduce yourself to

WOMAD offers free public wi-fi to all attendeesThe topic of public or attendee Wi-Fi at events creates more churn and discussion than just about any other aspect in the technology arena. Organiser questions come thick and fast – Should we provide it? How should we charge for it? Will it work? Why does it cost so much? How many people will use it? The list goes on.

The approach to production, exhibitor and trader Wi-Fi is clear cut but for the public, opinion on approach, the need and value flip on a regular basis. This is not entirely surprising given the confusing and often incorrect messaging which swirls around the industry, accompanied by the fact that the topic is more complex than it initially looks.

If you are running an event in a location with little or no mobile coverage, then the desire to provide connectivity for attendees is well placed as there is an expectation in today’s world for ubiquitous connectivity and attendees will quickly rally round to complain if they are disconnected from the rest of the world.

Mobile 3G & 4G coverage at events is improving but outside of a select few the reality is the mobile networks are not designed to service the volume of users at large events which leads to sporadic or non-existent performance. Even if there is good mobile coverage the drive to provide a public Wi-Fi network may be down to different factors, not least by the fact that a dedicated network is in the control of the organiser providing opportunities to gather statistics, target advertising, monitor usage and offer interactive services.

How do I pay for it?

Monetising the provision is, however, a difficult area as directly charging for Wi-Fi access is not a good approach and sees very limited take-up. Users are offended by the idea that after paying to attend an event they are asked to pay extra for internet access which in their view is a utility and life-right, especially when in most scenarios Wi-Fi access is ‘free’. It may be accepted by an organiser that any provision is just an overhead cost, the value being in the good feedback and enhanced social media presence that such an offering provides but in most cases there is an expectation of some direct value or cost recovery.

The key point is not to focus on the Wi-Fi connection but to look beyond at what the connection delivers – that may be additional paid for content, sponsorship and advertising, attendee interaction, geo-fencing and location services, add on experiences which are sold through the network, payment systems or other value-add elements which may be more accepted as a paid-for offering.

What capacity do I need?

One of the hardest things about public Wi-Fi at events is predicting usage and capacity required. There are multiple vectors to this but historical data and experience provide a good starting point. The key aspect is the likely amount of concurrent users as this drives the high water mark for system capacity.

The first vector is the type of event, a music festival for example will typically see a lower concurrent usage percentage than a more business focused event such as an exhibition. This is driven by the immediacy of modern business working versus the more local experience of a festival, coupled with the need at a festival to conserve battery life such that Wi-Fi is turned off unless actually required. Interestingly though over the course of a multi-day festival a higher percentage of attendees will use the Wi-Fi at some point compared to a business focused exhibition. In our experience we would not expect concurrent usage at a festival to be more than 10-20%, whereas an exhibition may be closer to 30-40%.

The second vector is the duration of an event, crudely the shorter the event the higher the percentage of concurrent users. This dynamic is partly down to the battery life concern at multi-day events in contrast to the ‘in the moment’ social media nature of a short event that is likely to have a single focal point and may see concurrent usage rise above 50%

The last vector is the hardest to predict – the marketing and messaging from the event itself. A smartphone app, twitter walls, content, streaming, promotions and campaigns can all drive up usage significantly and need to be understood as part of the planning cycle. Public Wi-Fi providing a low key email and internet access service is very different to the launch of a new 150MB smartphone app with rich content that everyone needs to download in the first hour of an event!

Will it work? What will it cost?

This brings us to the technical aspect and the associated cost. The big factors are the coverage area, the user density and the internet backhaul required. High density Wi-Fi is a very different beast to normal Wi-Fi – it involves much more complex design with sector based antennas, high end Wi-Fi access points, very careful spectrum (radio) management and various networking approaches to ensure the system does not saturate and grind to a halt. In front of a crowded stage with 10,000 people it requires a lot of Wi-Fi magic to deliver an acceptable service.

Coverage area adds an additional non-linear cost increase, especially in a green-field environment, simply down to the practicalities of deployment and connecting the entire network together. A typical device such a smartphone will only work reasonably if it is within about 100m of a Wi-Fi access point so if you are trying to cover 200 acres that’s a lot of access points all of which need to be connected together and have a source of power.

Behind all of this there has to be suitable internet connectivity (backhaul), many deployments are let down by not having enough backhaul or by having the wrong type. Some methods of internet connectivity are just not suited to a public Wi-Fi deployment where there may be thousands of users all chatting away simultaneously.

This all may seem a little overwhelming but it shouldn’t be, a well-planned and thought through deployment can be very successful but it needs to be a larger discussion than just the practicalities of making it work, including those who lead areas such as marketing and sponsorship. The demands on connectivity at events will only continue to increase and the best way to service that need is a clear approach around public Wi-Fi which forms part of the overall event strategy rather than as a costly bolt on.

No Wi-Fi HereAnother week, another big event, another twitter stream full of complaints about Wi-Fi. Rightly or wrongly Wi-Fi is touted above food, toilets, queuing, decoration and just about everything else as being critical to an event. It’s been the same for several years now with seemingly little progress, how can that be the case?

The first response is typically to blame the technology and there are certainly plenty of cases where poor designs and implementations are part of the problem. Building an effective, reliable and performing wired and wireless network is complex but not impossible. These days the main issues tend to lie elsewhere.

The first issue is cost. Delivering a true high capacity, high density network requires significant investment with a large chunk of the cost down to the internet bandwidth required. The price of low quality consumer bandwidth like ADSL and FTTC may be at an all time low but high capacity business quality fibre circuits are still very expensive, especially for short term use. The usage patterns of the attendees have also changed over the last few years with current demand as much about upload as download which, coupled with richer content, all continue to drive demand for more bandwidth.

You can provide the best Wi-Fi on the planet but if it isn’t backed up by the appropriate internet bandwidth then users will have a poor experience. There is no magic here, if you want 10,000 users to have a good experience you need multiple high capacity business grade links, yet most organisers see the cost of this bandwidth as top of the list for cutting, well above other items which ironically users complain far less about. 

The second problem is particularly significant in the exhibition and conference areas – rogue Wi-Fi. The Achilles heal of Wi-Fi is its unlicensed nature, which on one hand has allowed Wi-Fi to become pervasive across the globe rapidly but on the other hand is slowly killing it. Wi-Fi currently operates at two relatively narrow frequency bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. These two bands are divided into a number of channels which are shared by all Wi-Fi (and some other) devices. The problem is there are not enough channels available, especially at 2.4GHz so in a high density environment managing the channels which are available is critical to success. That in itself is hard enough but now add in all the exhibitors who have brought in their own Wi-Fi access points, then all the Mi-Fi devices and to top it off all the Bluetooth noise (which also operates at 2.4GHz) and you end up with a large conference hall with thousands of devices all shouting at each other to the point no one can be heard because it is just a mass of interference.

The idea that all of these devices can share the wireless spectrum effectively is simply not true in a dense environment. To make matters worse it’s a vicious circle – the more often an attendee or exhibitor has a bad experience the more likely they are to bring their own device next time further adding to the problem. Even worse is that every new Mi-Fi device has a little more power and those with their own Wi-Fi think more power and more access points will make things better raising the interference and noise further.

Those who work in this area have known for some time that 2.4GHz as a client access frequency at an event was a lost cause and the only hope was to move people to 5GHz as laptops, tablets and smartphones increasingly supported it. The extra channel capacity at 5GHz, no Bluetooth interference and fewer 5GHz Mi-Fi devices made for ‘cleaner’ air, unfortunately that is rapidly changing and soon 5GHz will be as crowded as 2.4GHz.

There are only a couple of solutions to this problem, the first is long term and probably unlikely. Wi-Fi needs more spectrum and there are various discussions and proposals for increasing the spectrum available but it also needs to be managed – separating consumer type devices away from lightly licensed professional frequencies so that each has its own space. This will not happen quickly and would take many years to trickle down through devices but it could be the long term nirvana to truly offer a reliable Wi-Fi service.

The second solution is not really technical at all, it just requires event organisers to listen to and take seriously what event IT companies have been saying for years – the Wi-Fi spectrum at events must be managed. In the broadcast arena spectrum management has been taken seriously for years and it works very well. If we want event Wi-Fi to work then the same approach must be used. That means taking a hard line when an exhibitor wants to use their own device – it has to be pre-approved with specific parameters or rejected, and the agreement has to be enforced. No more rogue Wi-Fi it ruins experience for everyone.

This is easy to say, it requires trust that an official provider is going to deliver a good service and I appreciate it is hard to enforce requiring support from all levels but it can be done (we have examples) and the difference it makes is considerable and everyone gets a working service. It doesn’t fix everything but unless something is done across the industry to support this approach then paying money out for Wi-Fi is pointless and frustrates users more than if there was no Wi-Fi at all.

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!