After seeing several tweets on the subject, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the blogs by Heidi Williams (original post) and ConnectEvents (original post) about the price and quality of wireless networks within the events industry.
Their points are exactly the types of discussions which have been going on in the AEO/AEV/ESSA Technical Committee since its inception. The same themes came out in the first brainstorm session; how can the industry deliver a ‘no cost’ experience to some whilst recouping the investment costs and on-going service? Should it deliver a no cost option? How do the suppliers within the industry educate customers about what they are getting and paying for?
The ConnectEvents blog highlights how they have been so disappointed with their experiences they have explored and successfully delivered their own solution by using Mi-Fi devices (we recommended them in our April article “Tips to keep running during the 2012 games”, as a fantastic solution for teams on the road). By having a customer deploy this solution, the industry is seeing the results of poor communication and expectations which is resulting in a poorer solution for the end customer. Though ConnectEvents have had success with using several individual Mi-Fi units it is important to realise that this approach will actually exacerbate the issue by generating even more Wi-Fi interference within the hall. Increased interference will impact those still trying to join the ‘managed’ central network and so they in turn may switch to buying Mi-Fi devices which in turn will generate more interference which eventually means no one will be able to use any wireless (Mi-Fi or anything else) at all!
A further consideration is that whilst signal strength may be good in London from the Mi-Fi provider (3G providers such as Vodafone, 3UK etc), the actual amount of internet bandwidth behind that service will continue to decrease as more people use it. Outside of strong 3G signal areas, obviously service will be poor.
I recently gave a presentation at the HBAA Forum in Wembley and the comments from the audience echoed what Heidi and ConnectEvents are articulating – that we as suppliers and venues need to start with some simple steps:
Education – Customer need to understand what they are actually paying for; it is very frustrating to pay significant amounts of money for connectivity when most of us enjoy reasonable service at home for tens of pounds per month. Education is critical; customers appreciate why power charges at events are more than at home and that expectation is because power, i.e. the provision of generators, is relatively obvious (someone puts it close by and it rumbles away, engineers are around etc), so exhibitors can easily appreciate the elements. Because IT tends to be smaller bits of kit behind the scenes, the perception is it’s either very simple or just complete black magic.
Bring differential services to market – Venues should be offering a free service to customers; perhaps it’s time limited and limited to the amount of connectivity speed available. For this, perhaps marketing information is captured? Or sponsor branding is viewed? With the right speed expectations, customers will at least appreciate other options are available. They can then be given a sell-up opportunity to buy time. Those who need service for critical elements, such as demonstrations, with engineers on call should expect to pay more.
We continue to work with the AEO/AEV/ESSA Technical Committee as to how best to approach these points from an industry perspective but in the meantime use our own blog and press relations to educate and encourage discussion on technology within the events industry.