Tom McInerney recently talked to about top tips for organisers running corporate events (reproduced with permission)

Make sure your technology is alright on the night with Etherlive’s top tips on getting the best tech to suit your budget.

Delivering events is highly complex, it requires a unique mix of skills; rather like spinning plates whilst at sea, by torch light. Tight budgets, short windows for delivery and customer expectations all combine as things progress towards a fixed deadline.

Technology has added an extra dimension to this already complicated mix. Further to power, catering and AV, organisers now need to think about how things will be connected together.

As demand for delegate apps, online ticketing systems and social media continue to increase the networks which power them have moved from nice-to-have to critical.

Director of Sales and Marketing at Etherlive, Tom McInerney, takes a moment to provide the top 5 tips for those who want to get the most technology for the least headache and budget.

Top 5 Tips

Think ahead

Any network services (Wi-Fi, wired) relies upon a high speed internet connection. Unless the venue you are working with has sufficient connectivity already in place this will take time to arrange. Typically months even in central London depending on the event requirements.

Keep it simple

Anything technology has the risk of becoming overly complicated – a good rule is that if things can’t be shown in a simple diagram or explained on a conference call then things are escalating. Would you trust your AV supplier if you didn’t at least understand the basics?

Know your risks

Work with suppliers and customers to identify which bits of technology are absolutely critical to the event and work out a plan B. One of the great things about technology is there are lots of ways to do things, many of which can be setup at the same time.

Have help when you need it

If technology elements are key to the event think about what will happen on the night; have you got support if you need it? This is also a pertinent question to ask of venues; if you need technical help where will it come from, and is calling a call centre (if that’s the support) going to get you the results quick enough?

Exploit your investment

Many people use the technology during the event but don’t think about using the results of that investment in the future. For example if you have streamed the event live, can you take a copy of that and break it into segments to use for a campaign on LinkedIn?

Working with technology can seem daunting but there is no reason for it to be; identify what is needed and find a partner who can get you the help you need.

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!

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.

Etherlive are continuously identifying ways in which we can improve the services which organisers can offer their customers, exhibitors and staff. Many of these people may be travelling for extended periods, have damaged or incompatible IT hardware or be travelling ‘light’ with just a smartphone or tablet device. Our work hub package has proved to be very popular, especially in the conference and exhibition sectors where a fully equipped and secure environment to work and print from is often requested.

A work hub ready for delegates

A work hub ready for delegates

A typical work hub provides;

  • Secure printing & copying
  • Fax
  • Device charging facilities
  • Full ‘desktop’ PC access
  • Desk telephones with low national & international call rates and a pin charging system
  • Skype booth with webcam and microphone
  • Wired & wireless internet access
  • Engineer onsite support

The Etherlive Work Hub creates a flexible, secure, dedicated work area which gives attendees the opportunity to keep on top of business without interfering with the event itself. Work hubs also work well for media and flexible organiser spaces.

By supplying a work hub you will be providing things that your delegates need and offering a service above and beyond expectations.
Please speak to our team now for more information about work hubs.

One of the most common requests we get is ‘Can you fix the mobile phone coverage at my event?’ It may be a simple question but the answer is not. There are many factors involved – signal coverage, network capacity, availability of mobile wireless spectrum and the cost of temporary masts to name a few. For events held at a temporary site like a festival the permanent infrastructure put in place by mobile operators is simply not designed to deal with 10,000 or more attendees descending for a short period.

The current approach for bigger events is the deployment of temporary mobile masts but this is not generally a good solution as the masts are costly to deploy, require separate masts for each operator, do not offer much additional capacity and have limited spectrum available for use. The result normally being that experience during the event remains poor. 

Some operators have offered small ‘femtocells’ which provide a small area of mobile phone coverage using a broadband connection, however, they have been very limited in terms of how many users they can support and have to be registered at locations to be used. They also require all users to be pre-registered which limits their usability.

Becoming a thing of the past?

Becoming a thing of the past?

These on-going challenges with mobile coverage at events makes the announcement last week by O2/Telefonica about the launch of TuGo all the more interesting. On the surface it looks like another VoIP app like Viber and Skype but the difference is it uses your existing mobile number so it doesn’t matter to the caller whether you are on the normal mobile network or a Wi-Fi network. With Wi-Fi coverage at events under the control of the organiser this finally means that “mobile” coverage can be extended across event sites either just for crew or for attendees too. This can be scaled up or down based on need and tied to existing provision for event production teams making it far more efficient than having large mobile masts.

There is a catch as the Wi-Fi voice minutes used do count against your normal voice minutes but given the way most mobile contracts are structured these days this is not such an issue considering the potential for improved coverage. At present only O2 have launched an app to do this but hopefully with the pressure from services such as Skype and now TuGo the other operators will follow suit and offer similar services.

Maybe at last we will see mobile operators see Wi-Fi as an extension to their offering rather than a competitor.

Having an Internet connection is an essential requirement for most events but many venues, especially greenfield sites, are in locations where a permanent Internet connection does not exist. This is often compounded with poor cellular coverage or limited capacity such that it will not operate effectively once the attendees arrive.

To overcome this Etherlive offer a range of Temporary Event Internet services – delivering temporary Internet connectivity to any location in the UK and overseas.

Our systems are customised to suit your event’s needs, offering a range of connectivity options and speeds including bonded-3G, Ka satellite, low contention ADSL and Annexe M services, right up to multi-Gigabit fibre connectivity. The connectivity can be delivered into the production compound or installed at a nearby location and then transmitted wirelessly onto the site.

Life without the internet

Etherlive have a dedicated provisioning team who have significant experience working with service providers such as BT Openreach, Colt and Virgin Media,  ensuring that services are installed on time and to the correct locations.

Once your event has temporary Internet, Etherlive provide a range of wired and wireless networking solutions to distribute and manage services. The core network can also be used for additional services including;

Call us now if you need any more information on how we can deliver temporary Internet for your event.

A $500 million event that happens once a year watched by 111.3 million people, supported by some of the world’s biggest sponsors, is put on hold for 30 minutes by a power outage. When this kind of failure can happen at the Super Bowl it’s not surprising that those who run and support events are kept awake at night worrying about what can go wrong – you only get one chance to get it right.

Power outages can happen to the biggest and best events, no matter what the location and with just about everything relying on power to some degree it’s important to look at how to mitigate any issues if the lights do go out.

The first step is to identify what power you have and the risks associated with it (it’s very easy to take for granted especially when in a permanent building), closely followed by identifying what services rely on it. From a technology point of view this list can be very long – access control, internet, telephony, two-way radio boosters, ticket systems, CCTV, Wi-Fi to name a few.

Each service should be reviewed for impact and with this information decisions made on whether to employ mechanisms to minimise risk. It’s also important to understand the interdependencies, for example a decision may be made to have a back-up generator for Event Control but if the phones and radio communication cease to function due to power loss elsewhere on site then the operation could still be impacted.

These days box offices and entrances struggle to operate without power as they rely on real-time ticket scanning and electronic payment. In these key areas it’s important to not only have a power backup plan but also a contingency plan to continue operating if the power plan fails – even if that involves manual checks over the radios or using runners.

Events don't have this option

Events don’t have this option

Many events now rely on a network for many of their systems – from ticketing & phones through to CCTV. That network needs to be designed with redundancy and power failure in mind. All key points should be protected by a monitored UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) – the monitoring is important so that central control knows if power fails how long the battery within the UPS can continue to operate for, especially as it can take some time for a power issue to be diagnosed and rectified on a large site. For critical areas, such as servers and core networking, the UPS needs to have a significant operational time which may involve the ability to ‘hot swap’ batteries to extend run-time indefinitely.

Modern VoIP telephones, CCTV cameras and other network equipment can be operated using PoE (Power Over Ethernet) which means they take their power from the network itself rather than a mains supply. The benefit of this is that the power required can be centralised and protected with a UPS so that the impact of local power outages in cabins and offices can be minimised.

Events will always have to deal with the unexpected happening – it’s part of the excitement and challenge of the live industry but sensible planning and preparation can minimise the impact.

Achilles was an all-powerful god with one deadly weakness in spite of his overall strength. As a baby Achilles was dipped into the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, by Thetis. When Thetis dipped the young Achilles into the river he held him by his heel and thus that part was not washed and become his weak point. The rest, which includes a poison arrow and a good shot, is history

The story from ancient Greece reminds us that everything has a weak point and with wireless technology its interference. Without acknowledging or managing interference the most expensive, well designed event wireless network will become useless.

In a recent industry forum interference became a topic with generated lots of questions so we have put together a brief list of some key considerations to ensure the wireless network at your event doesn’t suffer.

1. Manage expectations and set formal guidelines

Delegates and exhibitors should be informed in advance that any personal equipment will be subject to certain guidelines to prevent interference with the in-house Wi-Fi. It is recommended users are requested to sign a simple pre-registration form containing the guidelines prior to the event. Have technical resource or partner on hand should any exhibitor wish to ask questions.

2. Use a technology partner to scan the airwaves

Once guidelines have been set, wireless scanners can be used by on-site technology experts to ensure the agreements are being followed and to locate equipment causing interference. It’s not just other Wi-Fi devices that can be a problem – DECT phones, Bluetooth, alarms, telemetry systems and even industrial microwaves can all be sources of interference.

3. Manage other suppliers

Any wireless networks used by other suppliers should be taken into account during the early stages of Wi-Fi negotiations; wireless networks may be of equipment used by AV companies for example, so it is worthwhile engaging to pre-determine any possible interference and pre-assign channels so systems can coexist.

4. Get skilled up

Ensuring that the team running the event have access to technical resources or an on-site technology partner are essential in enabling an organiser to address any interference affecting delegates during the event.

Everything has an Achilles Heel

5. Put in place a back-up plan

If local interference cannot be eliminated, there should be a back-up plan to minimise the impact i.e. the installation of some hard-wire cables which delegates and exhibitors can use. Whilst wireless offers freedom, many venues suggest that those requiring a ‘guaranteed’ service should consider a backup wired connection assuming the device supports this.

6. Make the necessary pre-event considerations

Check the venue before choosing it in order to identify any potential problems; a good question to ask in the first instance is whether the in-house network can be turned off if it is not required for the event reducing interference.

7. Know your frequencies

Interference can often occur as a result of too many technologies crowding the same frequency channel;. A way of counteracting this is to advise those requiring a larger wireless range to use a 5GHz network, which can offer more transmission channels than the overused 2.4GHz. More and more devices now support 5GHz including a number of the current range of smartphones.

8. Use the right equipment

Domestic Wi-Fi equipment and even lower cost so called business equipment does not have the more advanced antennas and management to deal with interference effectively. Higher end professional equipment can automatically work around interference and deliver a much stronger & higher quality connection even when interference is present.