Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID as it is more commonly known, is not particularly new, having been around in various forms for a number of years. It suffered in the early days being seen as a technology looking for a problem to solve which, coupled with the high cost of deployment and issues around reliability, has seen it struggle to make an impact in the events industry.

Technology always takes a while to mature (I owned my first handheld smart device in about 1999 and it was hopeless by today’s standards!) As it matures the price comes down, the reliability and features improve and, most importantly, people have a chance to understand where it can used effectively.

RFID is in that position now. You do not think twice about using an Oyster card which is a great example of effective RFID use.  The  cost of RFID cards, stickers, wristbands etc has been falling fast and the reader technology is now widely available, positioning RFID nicely for an explosion in use.

Back to basics first though, what exactly is RFID? In simple terms it is a small ‘chip’ embedded into a card, sticker, wristband or other object which can transmit, receive and store small amounts of information when placed close to a special reader. It is this ability to store information on the chip which differentiates modern RFID with older systems such as those used in retail stores on high value items, and from where the term ‘smartcard’ comes. The second key feature of RFID is that the card or tag does not need to be inserted into a reader it can just be held close to a reader, making it ideal for rapid transactions.

Recently there have been a few announcements of exhibition venues, seen as a significant potential market for RFID,  moving towards an RFID based solution for tracking visitors and over time I think this will increase but it probably will not be a rapid transition as there are already fairly good systems in place using bar codes and scanners. The real opportunity lies in other areas such as festivals and big shows where RFID offers real promise of solving a number of challenges.

Take music festivals for example, the holy grail maybe for every attendee to have an RFID enabled wristband that is used for access to the event and as a means of cashless payment but that will take a few years yet to become mainstream. More immediately RFID can be used to assist in the management of crew and equipment. Crew catering is a pain for many organisers, a hassle to manage and often a black hole of cost. Using an RFID ‘smart card’ for each crew member pre-programmed with their meal allocations, coupled with an RFID reader at the catering location and now meals are processed quickly and efficiently. That’s only part of it though as now the organiser has real-time information as to how many meals are being consumed, what the forecast is for tomorrow, even what the peak times are. These data points seem trivial but actually provide cost saving information when you discover for example that on average the crew are only consuming 70% of the meals allocated (and paid for).

Expand the ‘catering card’ to be the ID card (as it already has information such as name and contractor company programmed onto it) and it could be used for checking in and out equipment such as radios, plant and cabin keys. Away go endless pieces of paper replaced by a real-time screen showing who has what. Go one step further and program qualifications into the system and then the cherry picker or manitou can only be checked out by a crew card which has the correct accreditation. The same system then extends to authorisation for restricted areas, providing the ability to ‘cancel’ a card centrally if it is lost.

So what’s holding back wide-scale use of RFID? Cost was a problem but now the price point is much more attractive. Reliable networks at events is often cited but these days the networks at events are expected to be like an office network and a correctly designed RFID system has built in tolerance (for example Oyster readers process most information locally and then send updates to the central system later). The biggest barrier is probably the concern over the change to processes that are required when any new system is implemented. The solution to this is not to use a ‘big bang’ approach but a 2-3 year strategy that will reap long term rewards. The lessons learnt along the way will ensure the holy grail of full attendee RFID is a much smoother affair.

This week see’s the 25th Showman’s Show at Newbury Showground, Etherlive will be exhibiting on two stands (one indoors in the warm and one outside) demonstrating some of the latest event technology solutions. Press release follows:

For further information contact:
Becky Martin-Jones / Mark Hook
T. 01454 629 741 

Cashless payments and next generation wireless infrastructure hailed as priorities for 2011 event technology

October 2010 – Etherlive is hailing cashless payments and next generation wireless infrastructure as the key innovation priorities for the 2011 events season.

The event technology specialist, exhibiting at this year’s Showman’s Show[1], is exploring new opportunities to introduce cashless payment systems.  This follows a pilot scheme this summer at WOMAD, which replaced paper-based crew meal tickets with electronic cards.  In addition, Etherlive is currently planning trials of next generation wireless technology in advance of next year’s festival season.

Tom McInerney, event director at Etherlive explains, “We’ve had a busy 2010 season providing core communications technologies to some of the UK’s most prestigious events.  We are now dedicating some significant time to delivering continued value and innovation by trialling new technologies including our 4G offering.  Having a secure technology infrastructure with extended coverage means that event organisers have a sound foundation for new services like CCTV, off site sound monitoring and audience interaction.

“Working with festivals such as WOMAD has shown us how effective cashless payments can be and we’ll be looking at new ways to apply this technology. RFID technology is ready to be deployed in volume at festivals and the installation at WOMAD was a first.

“These are exciting times for the event sector – technology has so much potential to make a difference to user experience, and the bottom line of the event organisers.”

Etherlive will be exhibiting on stands 67 and 168 at Showman’s, which takes place on the 20-21st October at the Newbury showground.

About Etherlive

A successful event depends on great performances. From WOMAD and The Green Man Festival to the Southampton Boat Show and the Three Counties Show, Etherlive is the one that makes IT work. Etherlive sits behind the scenes delivering reliable Wi-Fi internet, telephony, laptops, PDQs and interactive messaging. Whether in a field or a building, Etherlive makes connectivity simple.

[1] Showmans, 20-21st October –

The news is out, after spending the last 18 months working closely on a number of events Etherlive and Venue IT are merging to deliver an exciting range of technology services across the broad events industry. For existing customers the relationship and services provided remains the same, but now with access to an enhanced range of offerings, delivering more efficiency and industry leading innovation.

Full press release follows:

Technical expertise and events experience join forces

As the events and festival season get underway, Venue IT, the provider of telecommunications services to the events industry, is set to join forces with Etherlive.  Merging into a single business unit, the two companies will work together to offer a range of communications services and consultancy to the events industry.

Chris Green, Managing Director at Etherlive comments, “With our strong technology background and Venue IT’s events history and experience, we’re a great fit.  Having worked successfully together for a year and a half on a number of projects, the most logical step was to join forces and work as one.  We’re excited about the prospects ahead and look forward to delivering solutions that enhance the experience of organisers, exhibitors and visitors at all sorts of events across the UK.”

Mike Lang, of Venue IT adds, “This relationship offers our loyal clients the best of both worlds; they will continue to deal with the same people offering the same high level of personal service, and will benefit from increased resources with a new found capacity to deliver not only a range of services from its existing portfolio, but more importantly new and exciting complimentary services – exactly what you need for a successful event.”

Founded in 2004, Venue IT provides telecommunication solutions to some of the most prestigious outdoor national and international events held in the UK.  Among its customers, Venue IT boasts names such as Southampton Boat Show, CLA Gamefair, Red Bull X Fighters, World Triathlon Games, Frieze Art Fair and Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Wiltshire-based and in business since 2007, Etherlive is a specialist event IT company that designs, implements and supports both temporary and permanent IT solutions for events. Etherlive supports organisers, promoters and venue managers as they deal with the challenges of security, communications and monitoring across large and complex sites.

Etherlive’s customer base includes one-off short duration corporate events, specialist permanent installations and annual large scale temporary events.  Customers include WOMAD, the Green Man Festival, Get Loaded in the Park, Silverstone, the Three Counties Showground, and corporate clients such as Nokia, Amazon, Littlewoods, Intel and the BBC.

Initially, the company will maintain both the ‘Etherlive’ and the ‘Venue IT’ brands.  The company will operate from the Etherlive headquarters in Wiltshire.


About Etherlive

A successful event depends on great performances. From WOMAD and The Green Man Festival to Southampton Boat Show and the Three Counties Show, we are the ones that make IT work. Etherlive sits behind the scenes delivering reliable Wi-Fi internet, telephony, laptops, PDQs and interactive messaging. Whether in a field or a building, we make connectivity simple.

For further information contact:

Helen Stevens

t. 01454 629 741

The last thing you need is your site network going down mid-event because someone has tripped out a generator. It only takes a drop in power for less than a quarter of a second to cause most IT equipment to restart and that fraction of a second can lead to a lot of frustration as calls get dropped, CCTV stops and users get dropped off the network.

Last year we introduced our ruggedized battery backup units that could run our network units for over 12 hours, this year we have gone much further. Our latest smart power supply offers nanosecond switching between redundant power sources and highly efficient power conversion which has allowed us to push up battery operation to over 24 hours and, with the option for multiple hot-swap batteries, this can be extended indefinitely.

These units can source their input power, what we call ‘red power’, from 110-240V mains supply or from a generator and now, with an eye on the environment, they also have the option of using solar, wind or fuel cell generation.

The smart power supply deals with providing the protected ‘green power’ to the network units and other associated devices such as CCTV cameras or VoIP phones, only switching to a battery if required. What’s more is that these units are designed with remote monitoring so that we can see the status of each unit in our network operations centre.

The important thing is that whether you are a running a small press centre Wi-Fi zone or a 150 acre festival site you shouldn’t just cross your fingers and hope the power stays on.

With attendee numbers at The Event Show at Olympia last week apparently up on 2008 figures, there was a positive feel and vibe to the show. Yes, there were plenty of conversations about whether the downturn was having an impact but all in all it was business as usual, with organisers and suppliers planning as normal for the 2009 season.

The Etherlive stand near the entrance saw a steady stream of visitors

We took the chance to discuss some of the new products and services that we are launching for the 2009 event season. In the Wi-Fi space we have increased our range of solutions to include a new market leading technology that is ideal for the events industry as it is specially designed to work in ‘noisy’ environments using a patented beam-steering technology. This gives excellent connectivity even when rogue wireless units appear on site or large lorries start creating disturbances! These devices also support the new ‘n’ standard giving a much higher (300Mbps) throughput, ideal for services such as video streaming.

Alongside this our location tracking capabilities have also stepped up another gear with a new hybrid location tag that allows us to use GPS, Wi-Fi or RFID to identify location, reducing the infrastructure we require to cover large festival sites and providing outdoor, indoor and close proximity capability.

Power independence remains a key factor in our site designs so that our network and communication services remain operational whether a generator fails or not. Our power units switch from generator/mains to battery in a few milliseconds with no loss of service and can remain on battery for up to 24 hours (or longer if required) if site power is a problem.

Tom McInerney from Etherlive describes some of the new services at an Innovation Seminar

Site Operations is another area where we have been busy. Extending on our modular ‘POD’ design we now have a special version aimed at providing all the key services at a remote site from a small unit that can be deployed quickly when staff first arrive on site. It’s pretty much a portable  ‘office IT environment’ keeping a site operations team connected and productive from anywhere.

To round off the enhanced line-up a new mobile phone ‘portal’ or event guide was also on display. Working across a large range of phones (with no Java download) the guide is highly customisable and varies user experience based on their connection type (2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, etc). It can also be used in an interactive fashion enabling features such as uploads and voting.

As always further information is available on the website or we are more than happy to demonstrate these new technologies and services either at our base in Wiltshire or on a suitable customer site. Let’s just hope that 2009 brings a better summer!

New wireless survey tool you say? Check. Every wondered what the world looks like in the wireless spectrum? We can tell you, albeit through the use of a laptop screen (no holodeck capability yet I’m afraid)

Our new toolset can take readings as we walk around any site and report back. The tool highlights wireless signal issues with a simple colour code system. In most cases simple changes to the network can dramatically improve performance.

How’s your wireless network performing? (hint: If you have to hold your laptop in the air to get a signal it’s not great) use the contact form and we can pop over and have a look