Welcome to the event technology myth busters! Just like the popular American show (Mythbusters –  check it out!) we will be taking myths we hear about from customers and proving, once and for all, if they are true, busted or plausible!Event Technology Myths

GPRS (mobile phone) PDQ systems are unreliable at events – TRUE

GPRS payment terminals are designed to connect to the same technology as your mobile phone so it stands to reason if your mobile phone is working it will, right? Right. Generally, GPRS networks operate really well and the unit works all over the place. The exception to this, unfortunately for those in the events industry, is that when the mobile phone network suffers from overload the terminals will have the same issue as you making a call. The majority of the mobile phone network is designed for large scale coverage area, not high density (such as 30,000 people in a field). If you are going to try and use a PDQ terminal in this type of situation it is much better to hire a cabled or Wi-Fi terminal as part of the event provision at the same time as you request services such as power.

Optic Fibre internet is always expensive – BUSTED

Optic fibre internet (sometimes called leased lines) is the best type of connectivity. It’s dedicated (just for you), has a fast support process and is generally very reliable. If your home broadband is like a B Road (narrow, busy and sometimes blocked unexpectedly) then optic fibre is the three lane motorway. Getting a motorway to your door can be expensive but for many locations it is now cost effective, especially over 3 or 5 years. Tricks to keeping the costs down? Order early, order from the right supplier and plan for the future, for example order a link with the highest capacity possible, just run it at a slower speed until you need more.

You can generate good revenue from charging for use of public Wi-Fi networks – BUSTED

It seems so obvious – deploy a public Wi-Fi network at an event and attendees will flock to it and pay to get a good service when the mobile networks become overloaded. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case as attendees are cautious about public Wi-Fi and do not like paying for it. This should not be a surprise considering most other public Wi-Fi in cafes, shopping centres, etc. is free at point of use or users get free access via an existing account such BT or Vodafone. Then add in the fact that at most events the attendee is paying to enter the event and you can see why they are reluctant to pay again.

Recovering the cost of deploying public Wi-Fi has to be a lot more creative – it is all about the content and the usage data. Lots of platforms out there now quickly and effectively collect marketing information from those using the service, such as email addresses, social media information, sites visited, etc. All of which can either be used for your own or other activations. Those using the networks need to agree, but many do once they appreciate the service has to be paid for in some way!

That’s it for this issue! More to come over the next few weeks including; Do all venues have sufficient internet access? Can wireless networks be customised with logos and text? Does streaming always suffer from site unless it has its own connection? Is satellite internet a good option for all events?

1199922_38790784For event organisers life on the road, in and out of venues, holed up in damp cabins and questionable hotels means the technology they carry and the software tools they use are critical to their day to day job. It’s an ever changing landscape and, to some degree, a personal preference but there are a few key items to think about to ensure the teams stay productive at a sensible cost.

The Laptop – Personal & Critical

Although smartphones and tablets are the most talked about items of the last few years it is still the trusty laptop that is at the core of the road warrior armoury. It is the item not to skimp on, buying too cheaply will cost more in the longer term but at the same time there is no sense in buying at the top end – the best value is in middle.

Choosing a proper business laptop rather than the cheaper consumer models is a wise move – they survive better on the road and focus on the things that make a difference for an intensive user – battery life, keyboard feel, screen quality, lighter weight, etc. Size is important – there is no need for a massive 17” screen, you are better off sticking with a smaller screen and using an external monitor when you really need the extra screen area, the saving in weight and the fact you can then use your laptop on a train or plane is a much better benefit. Be wary of ultra-high resolutions on smaller displays as these often frustrate users as they can be so hard to read.

Hard drive failure just before an event is not something you want. To minimise the risk select an SSD (Solid State Drive) instead of a traditional hard drive – SSDs are not immune to failure but they are a lot more tolerant of being bashed about in an event world and they are much faster.

In terms of performance the marketing always suggests the latest, fastest and most expensive processor is the way to go, however, overall laptop performance is down to the sum of the parts so there is no point in buying one with a high end processor which is then crippled by a slow hard drive, limited memory and weak graphics. These days’ processors are so good that unless you have some very specific needs you are better off buying a mid-range processor with plenty of memory, an SSD, decent graphics and good build quality. For example in the Intel processor range you should avoid the low end Core i3, instead picking a Core i5. Unless you have a specific, very demanding usage case there is little point in the extra cost of a Core i7.

Ultrabooks (extra thin and lightweight laptops) are worth the expense for the highly mobile but be careful on selection as many no longer have a physical network connector built in – they rely purely on wireless connections. The workaround is typically an external adapter. Similarly, many Ultrabooks have dropped some of the older generation connectors such as VGA in favour of HDMI and mini-HDMI – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but you need to think ahead when presenting!

The type of wireless the laptop supports is very important and it is almost essential that you choose one which supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. The 2.4GHz range is typically so crowded on event sites that it is often unusable, whereas 5GHz has more capacity and provides a much better experience.

Should you buy an Apple Mac or a Microsoft Windows based laptop? In my view it doesn’t really matter – they both share the same core components and each suffers from similar types of failures and security issues. It is more about what sort of user experience you want and if you are already used to one or the other do not underestimate the initial loss in productivity if you switch!

Productivity Tools – Too Many to Choose From

The emergence of cloud services has led to an explosion in productivity tools, particularly ones that work well across distributed teams. Dropbox, Box, Office 365, Google Drive, Evernote, Google Docs, Microsoft One Drive, Skype, WhatsApp – the list goes on and on. They all have pros and cons and most will meet the needs of the majority of users. It’s not so much about which tools you choose, but about how many and how you manage them.

With a distributed team, especially one that includes freelancers, it is far too easy for everyone to do their own thing and productivity drops because no one knows where anything is or which version is the current one. It is really important to agree the tools and stick to them – less is more!

Offerings such as Office 365 where email, office applications and project sites can all be delivered as a single SaaS (Software as a Service), allow rapid scaling and shrinking of licences which is very effective for dynamic teams. There are additional benefits too since they are hosted in the cloud there are no VPN (Virtual Private Network) complexities for users connecting back to a central office whilst on an event site.

The downside of the modern cloud services is they require connectivity, not an issue when you are in the office but on event sites the impact is a lot more significant. The background synchronisation that takes place from your laptop, phone and tablet all consume bandwidth and this has increased the connectivity demand from event sites significantly which must be factored into event plans.

Security – Ignore at Your Peril

Distributed teams, a need to share lots of information, contractors, freelancers and a just get it done driver provide a mix which is an IT security nightmare. Information access, control and protection gets more complex every day and sadly the leakage of sensitive information and hacking are very real problems.

It all starts with the humble login and password, still the way that nearly all systems are accessed. We all hate them and we all get lazy with them. A few golden rules to start with:

  • Never use ‘shared’ logins – the moment you use shared credentials you lose all ability to audit and control. If you suffer a breach you will not be able to trace it and the only way to stop it involves impacting everyone.
  • Do not use the same password on multiple accounts – People hate this one but it is increasingly important. The reason is simple – the majority of systems use your email address as the login id so if one system gets hacked (which is all too common) and login details are compromised the hacker knows that using the same login id / password combination on other systems is more than likely to work. What starts as an annoying but manageable breach on a harmless website becomes an exposure to financial data, banking, customer information etc.
  • Strong passwords – It’s incredible that the most popular password is still 123456 and the second most popular is password. In a business environment that should be treated as irresponsible and a possible disciplinary offence. Password hacking methods have moved way beyond the old ‘brute force’ attacks which means even fairly complex passwords are cracked surprisingly quickly. If you can remember your password easily then it is probably too simple!

The last two points above are at the core of the issue which blights confidence in computer security – realistically no human can manage dozens and dozens of different, complex passwords so the weak ones persist and play straight into the hacker’s hands.

At first the solution seems counter-intuitive – password managers. These utilities such as Lastpass and 1Password manage all of your passwords allowing you to have unique, complex passwords for every system you use. You then just have one password to remember to access the password manager.

Surely this is a bigger risk as that one password gets access to everything? Potentially yes, but there are reasons why this risk is smaller than the risk of not using a password manager.

Firstly, you are far more likely to remember one complex password than lots of them. Secondly the password manager (or at least the good ones) is local to your devices so to try and hack the password the hacker needs access to your actual device, not an on-line website so this adds another layer of defence. A password manager is infinitely more secure than yellow sticky notes stuck to your screen.

To go a step further, particularly for a password manager, using ‘two factor authentication’ is wise. Two factor authentication provides an additional layer of security in a similar way to the card readers used by many banks for on-line banking but instead of a card reader they use an application on your computer or smartphone. Products such as Google Authenticator are now supported on many password managers and also directly on other on-line services.

Passwords are a key part of security but there are a few other aspects which need to be watched carefully. Most security breaches are still caused by employees or contractors – both intentionally and unintentionally. With documents and information bouncing between people and systems at an alarming rate knowing who has access to information and where information is stored is crucial.

Thankfully the majority of staff and contractors are trustworthy but it only takes one. Using unique logins for all staff as mentioned above makes the process of closing down access much more straightforward when it is no longer required and provides traceability. Most systems now provide a granular access control so that not everyone gets access to everything. A clearly owned ‘leaver process’ is also important to make sure logins are removed and content deleted from sharing locations.

Effective technology usage can make a big difference to productivity but it is too easy to overcomplicate. We now have an amazing array of systems with which to share content and communicate but when the pressure is on ‘old fashioned’ email still comes out on top as it is simple and dependable. The same thought should hold true for the other aspects; event road warriors require simple and dependable solutions that do not distract them from what they need to do – run events!

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.

EE have launched their Wi-Fi Calling service and Vodafone are expected to follow shortly along with other operators. With the prevalence of other VoIP based calling such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, etc. you could be excused for thinking what all the fuss is about.

There are two big things about Wi-Fi Calling, the first is that it uses your normal mobile number so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a mobile signal you can still receive and make calls on your normal number.

The second aspect of true Wi-Fi Calling is that it is seamless – you don’t have to launch an app and make a conscious decision to switch, it is handled directly by the phone. Here though lies an issue in that only newer generation phones support this aspect today, however, it is expected that all future phones will adopt it. Seamless is also not truly seamless yet in that active calls at this point cannot roam from the mobile operator network to Wi-Fi or vice versa but this is expected to be introduced in the future.

The other cheeky point to note is that operators are still likely to charge (or deduct from bundled minutes) for a call made over Wi-Fi even though they are not providing the network.

For event organisers Wi-Fi Calling sounds like a great development as requests to improve mobile coverage and capacity is up at the top of the list of the things we get asked to fix most frequently, yet generally we are fairly powerless to address as the current system has been a closed environment controlled by the mobile operators.

At a high level this is a great development for event organisers, especially for production staff who can be offered an alternative to the mobile network very easily but it throws up some challenges which need to be considered very carefully if it is to be used beyond production staff. Any event providing a Wi-Fi network for its attendees is now potentially going to see extra demand on that network, not so much in terms of capacity as voice traffic is fairly small, more in terms of quality of service.

Voice traffic is not tolerant of congested networks, previously an attendee just downloading some email might see the network as being a bit slow but it still works, with voice it is a different story with stuttering audio rendering the call unworkable and frustrating the user far more than slow email.

Event organisers will need to make conscious decisions about the use of Wi-Fi Calling and ensuring any network is capable of delivering it at a quality that is acceptable to users. This may mean high density design and increased internet capacity – both of which can push up costs.

For smaller events this is not likely to be that much of a problem but as you scale up to large outdoor events with thousands of people the challenge is a lot more significant. Wi-Fi Calling has the potential to help solve one of the big frustrations at festivals, arenas and sports events but without a good public Wi-Fi network it could make the frustration worse.

The interesting question is that if Wi-Fi Calling is adopted by users and becomes the norm when in a public Wi-Fi hotspot will attendees increasingly expect it at events? And if so, who pays?

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.

Etherlive provide temporary telephony services for events using a mixture of VoIP (Voice over IP) and direct copper (BT) connections.

Direct copper phones are required by some events for emergency liaison teams but most other telephony can be provided using VoIP technology. When requiring traditional BT lines Etherlive’s provisioning team arrange orders, installation dates and work directly with BT Openreach ensuring everything is installed as required.

Photo of cups and string

Temporary telephony has moved on

VoIP at its simplest is a phone service delivered over a network and is the way nearly all modern installations are completed. By providing service over the site network and the internet, phone call costs are very low rate (or free in the case of national calls) and because the handsets are powered from the network they can be quickly installed or added as a last minute requirement. Modern VoIP phones also come with advanced features including speakerphones, ring groups, hunt groups,voice mail and provide a wired internet connection for computers.

Etherlive deploy two types of VoIP handset used for events; wired and wireless.

Wired VoIP phones are for those who wish to have a traditional desk or conference phone in a room or wish to assign a phone to a specific department. Handsets can also be fitted with headsets for those working on high call volume desks.

Wireless VoIP phones are based on the latest standards of business DECT technology and can therefore can roam throughout the event.  These handsets are splash proof and provide a good alternative for site & production managers who need to be on the move where the cellular network is not good enough to rely on a mobile phone.  The handsets communicate using the same system as the wired versions so internal calls are free and external calls are at a low rate.

For larger deployments a VoIP PBX (the modern equivalent to a telephone exchange in a small box) is installed onsite and can be linked between sites or to an existing office. This unit manages all calls, voicemail and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) features.

For more information please look at our VoIP page or contact us where we will be pleased to help you find the right solution for your event.