Article recently published by Event Magazine profiling Hannah Wood.

Hannah Wood, connectivity, supplier and site manager at Etherlive, shared her career story with Event for the Women in Events campaign. She talked about working in a diverse role, how she ended up working for an event technology company and how a quad bike featured in one of her past interviews.

What do you do and how long have you been in your current role?

I have been at Etherlive for a year, following my role at an experiential marketing agency. At Etherlive I am in charge of ordering and managing the installation and maintenance of all of our internet connectivity and telephony services; account managing our major suppliers including connectivity, recruitment, vehicles and equipment hire; and I will also be taking on management responsibility for our pool of freelance site managers and managing some event sites myself.

This is the most diverse role I have worked in and I am lucky enough to be involved in many areas of the business, from the ordering process to the financial reconciliation to the implementation of our technology services on-site at events.

Where was your first job? What was the most important thing you learnt there?

In 2009 I moved to London and began working for the Royal Society of Medicine as an assistant conference co-ordinator and quickly moved up to being the external societies co-ordinator, responsible for all conferences and meetings for a particular society. This was a venue-based role and included dealing with all departments of the society to plan and manage the events as well as close contact with the client and conference delegates.

I learnt a lot here about dealing with many different types of people and how to deal with pressurised situations where there are multiple stakeholders.

Event's latest Women in Events profile with Etherlive's Hannah Wood

Event’s latest Women in Events profile with Etherlive’s Hannah Wood

How did you get from there to where you are now?

Over the next three years I worked at Imperial College London in the role of events co-ordinator for the university’s commercial services department, as an events manager at an agency providing the catering, bars and theming for weddings and corporate events and at an experiential marketing agency managing a promotional staffing team at events across the UK.

In each role I honed my skills and I got to attend events including V Festival, Rockness, Moto GP, Festival No. 6, Lounge on the Farm, Brownstock and many more. This, together with my experience at university where I made sure I improved my knowledge working in events at the student union, gave me a solid foundation for the future.

Looking back, did you expect your career path to take the course it has?

No, I originally thought I would go in the direction of conferences and work with specific exhibitors and clients on stands and contents rather than working on the organisation and management of full-scale events. I also never thought I would end up working for a technology company but I’m glad I do, it has given me even more insight to the workings of events and my previous experience on the non-tech side helps when working with other contractors and clients.

Would you do anything differently?

I would have invested my time in a lot more work experience. The events industry can be difficult to get into if you want to make a career out of it and any experience you have is highly valuable. It’s taken me a long time (and a few not so nice jobs) to get where I am today.

Who has inspired you along the way?

I take inspiration from anyone I can learn from. I work with a number of people who have been in the industry for a long time or who have worked in really interesting areas and I don’t think there’s ever a day when I don’t get taught something new, whether it’s new event knowledge or a bit more information about some sort of technology we use.

Have you ever had a job interview that went particularly well or spectacularly wrong?

I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview that sticks out as being fantastic or awful, but I have had some interesting ones. I ran a bar at a farm show as part of one of my interviews, which was great fun, and I got to drive a quad bike on another interview.

Is there a piece of career advice you’ve ever been told that has stuck with you?

You will never know everything. Don’t think that you do or you might end up looking very silly.

What career advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Change your university course, this one isn’t going to take you anywhere you can’t already go.

How do you wind down and relax after a hectic day?

I go to kick-boxing training.

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It has been said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. If you said the same about technology it would read ‘confusing acronyms and over hyped performance claims’. Although 802.11ac, the latest in a long line of Wi-Fi standards, has been in development for several years it was finally approved in January and more client devices are now appearing which support it, including the Samsung Galaxy S4, newer iPads and the rumoured iPhone 6.


The ever growing list of Wi-Fi standards

Claiming speeds of 433Mbps up to 6.77Gbps, multi user MIMO and beamforming it would sound like we should all be rushing to implement this technology as soon as we can to solve our Wi-Fi woes. For the home user a shiny new 11ac Wi-Fi router and compatible tablet may indeed offer some benefits but if you look at the limiting performance factor in most households it is the broadband connection itself and not the Wi-Fi which throttles everything to a crawl.

For those of us deploying large scale, high density Wi-Fi, particularly at events and stadiums, the potential impact of 11ac is far more important and if not considered carefully could easily reduce performance rather than improve it. There are many enhancements and extensions within 11ac and as before with 11n it will take time for all the features to be implemented and used effectively.

One of the big changes is with MIMO or Multiple Input Multiple Output streams. MIMO is like moving from a single carriageway road to a dual carriageway or motorway – the data travels from your device to the Wi-Fi access point using multiple paths. Most business quality Wi-Fi access points have supported MIMO since 802.11n but many handheld devices have only just started to implement it. It can provide better overall speed and improve coverage especially where there are lots of obstacles. 11ac allows for up to 8 streams, whereas 11n is limited to 3, however, in reality most devices will not implement more than 3 and in fact most handheld devices will be limited to 1 or 2 because of the cost, complexity and extra power drain of adding more streams.

Those extra streams are not necessarily lost though as 11ac will eventually offer multi-user MIMO where different streams can be directed to different clients providing a much needed boost in situations such as events where the pinch point is the number of connected devices rather than absolute speed. Unfortunately version 1 of 11ac does not support multi-use MIMO so we will have to wait another year or two for that.

Beamforming is another aspect which 11ac requires, a technology which aims to optimise performance based on the direction of signals and provide a higher interference rejection. Beamforming is already supported in 11n and, when combined with adaptive antenna arrays, is very powerful in ‘noisy’ environments like event sites, however, many wireless vendors do not implement it so 11ac aims to standardise beamforming across clients and vendors, which over time will provide performance improvements.

So far it all sounds good so what is the problem? To answer that we need to look at why we have a problem today. Wi-Fi is a shared medium, a Wi-Fi ‘access point’ has to simultaneously talk to a number of client devices and split the available capacity between all the devices it is talking to. For example an 11n wireless access point (without MIMO) can at best deliver 150Mbps of capacity, if there are 100 users connected to it then each user would see a maximum speed of 1.5Mbps. This is absolute best case, real world would be far, far lower.

To add more capacity more wireless access points are used but they all need their own ‘space’ to operate in otherwise they would just interfere with each other like a room full of people shouting. To do this there are a number of standard ‘channels’ defined and each Wi-Fi access point is assigned a channel. The most common form of Wi-Fi today runs at 2.4GHz which has 14 channels but these channels overlap and not all of them are usable in all countries, in fact there are really only 3 usable channels when it comes to designs for large scale deployments. On top of this 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi has to contend with Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, microwave ovens and a whole host of other things which also use the same frequency range!

At home where there are likely to be only a few devices connecting to the Wi-Fi network these issues are not generally a great concern but on an event site where hundreds, or now more typically thousands of users have to be connected simultaneously the combination of the lack of capacity and interference creates a huge problem.

All is not lost though as there is a second Wi-Fi frequency range at 5GHz which offers 23 non-overlapping channels (although that is before you factor in indoor, outdoor, DFS and country restrictions) and much lower interference. Today most of the wireless backbone infrastructure on event sites uses 5GHz – this includes normal data transmission, CCTV cameras and other wireless devices such as video senders. There are enough channels to do this successfully provided it is all managed carefully.

Until recently most client devices did not support 5GHz but now many do meaning that client access can also be provided at 5GHz avoiding the problems of 2.4GHz. The downside of this though is that 5GHz is no longer the quiet frequency it used to be with many domestic Wi-Fi routers supporting it and permanent wireless links using it, all of which increases interference and limits available free channels. 11ac however could make things far worse.

Whereas 802.11n was a standard for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, 802.11ac is a 5GHz only standard which means we will see an acceleration in the adoption of 5GHz in all devices. This in itself is not a bad thing but it will change the dynamics of Wi-Fi deployments with more and more focus on 5GHz client access leading to less room for 5GHz backhaul. The likely result is that backhaul will have to move to licenced frequencies or higher unlicensed frequencies such as 24, 60 or 80GHz but there are cost and implementation considerations.

The second problem is that 11ac focusses on delivering more speed but one of the ways it does this is by using a wider channel in which to send data and this is implemented by in effect ‘bonding’ channels reducing the number of independent channels available. 11n can already bond two channels but 11ac can bond four which could reduce the available channels by 75% leading to interference issues.

All of these factors are configurable and manageable and the design for a large event site will be considerably different to say an office environment but for everything to work in harmony there will need to be an even greater focus on ‘spectrum management’ ensuring that all parties using wireless equipment do so in a controlled and agreed manner. Without this structure and control the user experience will deteriorate rather than improve. 11ac can bring benefits, albeit without the headline speed claims, but there are greater risks in terms of poor design.

We will be starting to deploy some 11ac access points in a controlled manner over the coming months, working closely with vendors to optimise designs for the challenging needs of event sites.

I had the pleasure of joining the ‘What’s next for event organisers in 2014?’ panel during Confex 2014 with event luminaries Andrew White (Triggerfish PR), Neil McLaurin (MD, Keith Prowse), Fay Sharpe (MD, Zibrant), Richard Beggs (MD, Moving Venue) and Claire Wormsley (Director, Global Conference Network)

The session was based on a number of key questions some of which I thought shed light on the future for events – to share with a wider audience my brief notes are below;

What are you seeing in terms of market confidence? All panel members saw confidence returning to the corporate event market, be it more award ceremonies consuming Champagne or longer lead times for those planning large internal meetings. Cautious optimism seemed to be the theme but certainly ‘things are getting better’.

Do you think that consolidation of businesses will continue? Why? The consolidation of large travel agencies looking to bring event expertise into their business continues to be a significant theme within the corporate market. The panel predicted this would continue as large organisations look for ways to continue growth through diversity. Several smaller firms are finding themselves working together in formal partnership to address the rise of ‘Titans’

Confex panel including Tom McInerney from Etherlive discusses the future of events

Confex panel including Tom McInerney from Etherlive discussing the future of events

In an extremely competitive market, how are you diversifying your business? An even split from the panel here; half were driving their businesses to diversify by looking for growth opportunities in new market sectors and geographies whilst half where creating a heightened level of focus to create very specialist products.

What are your thoughts on degree-level education within the industry? Is it essential? An added bonus? Many of the panel agreed that in reality it doesn’t matter what degree one takes, it’s the commitment to study and learning which stands the student in good stead. Several examples where provided of key staff who studied a range of degrees from Law to English yet enjoy their roles within the events market. Concern was flagged about the amount of event degrees on offer but the panel suspected this was because a large proportion of those who study events in the UK are foreign students who then return.

What is more important to the corporate – quality assurance or cost? A wide ranging discussion here based on several different markets many of whom have broad ranging requirements and budget. In general the consensus was customers need support to appreciate which elements are worth investing budgets in and which costs can be optimised.

An excellent session which was well attended, hopefully those who attended enjoyed the discussions. For anyone who wishes to ask further questions Triggerfish will monitor the #humanlibrary hash tag for a few weeks.

The last couple of years has seen a major shift to ‘cloud computing’ driven by a combination of the expectation of connectivity everywhere and the explosion of users wishing to easily share content between several devices. On the whole the use of cloud services such as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Sky Drive and cloud hosted business applications such as Salesforce, Office365, Adobe and even Sage to name a few, can be great for companies, providing the well documented concerns around security, data protection and availability are addressed appropriately.

There is, however, a grey lining to the cloud when it comes to events – the impact cloud services have on the event infrastructure. The internal infrastructure in terms of Wi-Fi and wired connections is not the concern, any well designed network should be able to handle that, it is the internet connectivity aspect. The additional loading that cloud services create is having a significant impact on the capacity required and many events and customers are not factoring this into plans and budgets.

Cloud services change the usage characteristics of internet connections, creating much more demand on the upload capacity compared to traditional browsing, this means that ‘synchronous’ connections need to be used where the upload and download speeds are more closely matched compared to ADSL where the download is much faster than the upload. Overall the capacity of the internet connections need to be higher too because everything is going back and forth to the internet. For example a user sharing a 10MB site plan to ten others will generate 10MB of upload traffic and 100MB of download traffic because it will synchronise to each user separately – this may not seem a lot but scale up to a whole site across all users (with multiple devices) and all services and the numbers get very large very quickly. Scrimping on the connectivity for a corporate training event where all 200 users are set to use a cloud service is a recipe for disaster as the user experience will undoubtedly be poor.

Cloud based services can cause a storm with event internet requirements

Adding more capacity is generally the easiest route but the jump in cost can be higher than customers expect because of the need to move to synchronous and low contention services such as EFM (Ethernet First Mile) and optic fibre. In some cases wired connectivity is limited so additional wireless or satellite capacity is required and these have their own requirements which need to be factored in early on in planning. Newer services like BT Infinity do help in some cases but it should be remembered that although the headline numbers look good these are consumer focused services which come with high contention ratios (meaning a high risk that performance will be much lower than stated at busy times) and there is no guarantee on the service.

Slowly cloud based services are realising there is a need to be able to distribute load and are making available the ability to provide local caches of data which will help over time but we are some way off this being easily available for most services. In the mean time understanding what services are being used and undertaking capacity planning is essential so that the correct level of capacity can be put in place.

Overall cloud services can be very cost effective but as the saying goes there is no such thing as a free lunch!

With the summer of live events fast approaching the ability to measure footfall and analyse crowd density is a paramount consideration when managing attendee safety and movement.

Most festivals continue to rely on entrance counting to record how many people have entered. Once inside quantifiable information about which areas attendees are in remains challenging and costly. Experienced crowd managers continue to monitor movement and behaviour from security positions, such as fire towers and concert pits, they can only see one side of the story. The skill of those who monitor crowds is not in question but with ever growing site size, multiple entertainment areas and larger camp sites an effective system for low cost monitoring is required.

Exhibitions also continue to use entrance counting but exhibitors are starting to request information about the busiest areas as they convince their organisations to invest in floor space with maximum exposure.

Etherlive LEFA People Counting

Etherlive LEFA People Counting


Our launch of LEFA (Live Event Footfall Analytics) at the Showman’s Show received very positive feedback from those looking for a system to support their crowd management teams. The system is capable of accurately and immediately counting flow and density of crowds. The system can also provide pressure overlays to assist in the identification of potential flare hotspots such as moshing or overcrowding.

The LEFA toolkit includes an event control dashboard, viewable from tablets using the secure event management network, which summarises key count and crowd hotspot information as well as being coupled to live CCTV viewing.

LEFA is highly customisable. Alerts which activate SMS or email systems can be put in place which trigger if key criteria are met (over x amount of people within tent 2 for example).

With powerful data logging detailed post event reports can be produced displaying ingress, egress and crowd flows throughout the event broken down into customisable time periods. This provides excellent insight into peak flow periods at different parts of a venue facilitating data driven adjustments in staffing and approach.

The opportunity for large scale event organisations to increase their event intelligence has never been better.

The temperature has fallen and the leaves have turned—it must be time for Showmans 2013! Our team have been feverishly developing new innovations for the 2014 season and setting up meetings with customers old and new. This will be our 6th year at Showmans as it continues to be the place to be seen in the events industry.

Some highlights for this year include;

People Monitoring (stand 67)—We will be demonstrating our new crowd management products (we call them LEFA—Live Event Footfall Analytics) showing how we helped customers like Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Southampton Boat Show to understand peak times and busy areas.

#guesstheguests—Our LEFA stand will have a live event counting system running. Want to win a bottle of champagne? Guess the number of people who pass through the main marquee to be entered into the draw.

On-going innovation (stand 70)—As always we will be showing some of our latest Etherlive equipment including our newest high definition CCTV cameras and monitoring software (allows operators to take instant still images to send to police). A demonstration of our teenager registration system allowing secure contact details to be held and looked up by security and welfare officers, our latest market data collecting splash pages and finally our latest digital content distribution system allowing video to be pushed across sites using the Etherlive network.

Core services (stand 70)—Behind everything we do is a robust, reliable event ready network designed to support whatever is required including wired and wireless phone systems, high speed Wi-Fi, internet access, CCTV and remote sound monitor connections.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Having been around hotels and catering all my life it never ceases to amaze me how good they are at making delivery of massive functions in one room and dinner for hundreds of residents in another look so calm and collected. It’s what hotels are great at. Many have established suppliers who help with the details like laundry, additional staff who they trust to use their experience to bring a better customer experience. We are now reaching the point where a technology partner is just as important.

We asked for some research to be completed which helps highlight the challenge hotels are facing – over 81% of the hotels asked in the phone survey were unable to explain what kind of internet access they had for functions. Imagine that all-important agent exploring venues for their 3 year sales conference for whom high quality internet access for webcasting and the launch of the new cloud based platform are critically important, only to be frustrated at the first turn?

When asked further many of the venues which did know something about their connectivity listed it as ‘high speed’ or that ‘it’s been fast enough in the past’ both of which will cause any IT internal stakeholder to develop a look of panic when the production partner reports back.

Hotel Reception

Hotels dealing with technical enquiries need a partner they can rely on. Image courtesy of Google.

Demand for IT service has progressed from basic Wi-Fi in hotel rooms and conference facilities to specific needs which need to be addressed—if the customer is looking for their CEO to walk through the latest sales projections online with the board or video-conference with the MD of their European operations (who is reducing her carbon footprint by not flying as much and as a result also seeing her family more) the customer needs to be confident your systems can deliver.

None of these enquiries need be scary, but they do need to be engaged. The best way is to have a partner on hand who can educate the in house M&E team for the basics and then help when things get more complicated.

Our Preferred Partner Program is now starting to gain traction; forward thinking venues are looking at the best investment options to differentiate themselves from others and are prepared for the questions when they are asked from that prospective, tech dependent customer.

Now we have hit the main festival season, (and were blessed with a dry Glastonbury!) we take a moment to look at the less glamorous aspect of events – ensuring organisers have the right help when they need it. Whatever the event, be it in a muddy dry field on Pilton Farm, a hotel in central London or a conference hall in San Francisco, having the appropriate levels of technology support is critical to success.

Identify your critical elements

What is going to have the largest effect to your event if it fails? This sounds like a simple question and one that typically forms part of a risk assessment, however sometimes things get missed. Nothing happens without power (in most cases!) but if the internet connection drops can you continue to process bar transactions? Or scan tickets? Or monitor crowds through the CCTV system?

The Thinker

Confirm support expectations

With a plan including critical elements in hand, how easy is failure to work around? If nothing can be done then make sure you have a clear agreement about getting help if you need it. Weekend or out of hours suppliers can be expensive at the last minute. Can one of your team be trained to fix a basic problem? Can you get onsite or standby support?

Document and prepare a plan B

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”. If the worse happens what can be done? What could be lined up as a backup plan? Can you revert to a manual system and if so can that be prepared in advance? Running through failure scenarios gives you an option if the worst happens and means if it happens then the plan can be activated whilst others work on fixing the main issue.

The world of support isn’t glamorous and one of thousands to be considered when planning and executing an event but when things go wrong it can save a lot of stress and potential pain.