Having reliable internet access at meetings of all sizes is more important than ever. Attendees expect to be able to connect a variety of devices ranging from mobile phones to tablets to laptops through a venue’s Wi-Fi. Meeting presenters may have additional needs such as web demos, video streaming, crowd polling or video conferencing. How well a venue’s broadband service is able to meet these demands depends on a number of factors, beyond just the obvious ones (such as speed or price).
“Internet access has become a basic utility like electricity and running water,” says Michael A. Judeh, Regional Director of Technology in NYC for IACC member venue Convene at 32 Old Slip, in NYC. “Ease of connectivity is a priority. And after that, having adequate bandwidth matters. But it’s important to know what attendees will be using the connectivity for in order to plan properly.”
Internet tops list of meeting must-havesIACC’s own research on the topic shows that 58% of meeting planners won’t shortlist a venue without an internet performance guarantee. And 75% say that free or affordable broadband will be critical in the next 5 years. In fact, internet ranks higher on the list of important aspects of meetings for many than the overall acoustics of the meeting room or lighting.
When comparing internet offerings between venues, it’s important to keep in mind that not all bandwidth is created equal. In fact, a number of factors can affect the quality and reliability of the connection during the event. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most important factors to consider.
Internet considerations from wired to Wi-FiBefore you select a venue based solely on whether the Wi-Fi is free, consider these 10 essential internet planning tips for small or medium-sized meetings.
1. Check the speed.
“10mbps upload and 10mbps download should accommodate basic internet traffic like email, web browsing etc., but for many venues with multiple users, this is not good enough today and carries risks. Speed is important but is relative to the usage. 10/10 might be great for general internet traffic but when connecting through VPN’s and moving massive data across servers, 10/10 might not be nearly enough,” said Judeh (Convene).
To test a venue’s internet speed, you can use a speed check app such as:
What’s the difference between bandwidth and speed?Internet upload and download speeds are measured in megabits per second, or Mbps. This is how fast the network is capable of moving data. Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can pass through a network link at a given time. If you think of it like a highway, bandwidth is number of lanes the highway has and speed is how fast the cars are moving. The number (and size) of vehicles on the highway affects how fast each car can go. Speed bumps, curves, and lane mergers also affect the speed.
"Whatever the size of meeting, people expect connectivity, and not just for audience participation or to get the event app, but to keep abreast of things in the office and stay ahead of their emails. As a bare minimum, you should provide 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) per 100 people. Given residential Wi-Fi typically offers 20+ Mbps, and most people don't live with 199 other people, you can appreciate this really is just a base level. We'd expect quality venues to be offering 100 Mbps in their conference areas, even if they only have space for far fewer people," said Michael Piddock, Founder, Glisser.
To determine how much bandwidth your meeting needs, use our handy broadband estimator.
How much bandwidth?
A rule of thumb is 10 mbps per 100 delegates (Glisser).
3. Ask about infrastructure.
For example DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), T1 (Dedicated or Lease Lines), Cable (Broadband Internet), or Gig-E (Fiber-optic Gigabit Ethernet circuits) are all possible ways that internet service could be delivered to a venue. If you need a dedicated internet connection, meaning your conference or meeting presenters/attendees will be the only ones using the bandwidth offered through it, you’ll likely be looking for a DSL, or Gig-E or T1 service.
4. Consider a private network.
A private, dedicated internet service behind a firewall will ensure your meeting isn’t interrupted by competing demands from other guests. “Paid internet may provide a much faster and dedicated secure internet connection with a firewall, your own Wi-Fi router and wired Ethernet connections for presenters and exhibitors,” said Hendrik Karsten, Founder and Managing Director of Karstens Centres in Australia.
If your chosen venue doesn’t provide a private internet connection option, you might look into contracting directly with an ISP (Internet Service Provider) to bring in a temporary high-speed internet connection for your event.
5. Map the access point locations.
Keep in mind that internet signal is sent in a circle. So in a large room like a ballroom, people or exhibitors in the corners of the room may not get a signal. Add additional access points if needed to better route the signal evenly.
If you’re planning any outdoor sessions, be sure access points are available for connections. You might also consider creating several specific Wi-Fi hotspots that offer high-volume bandwidth, and direct heavy users to these areas.
6. Consider wired connections.
Wireless interference from personal Wi-Fi (personal “hot spot” devices), such as Apple products which are “always transmitting”, other wireless routers in the venue or neighbouring businesses, can all cause wireless interference and may affect your available wireless signal.
You can ask meeting attendees to turn off their devices when not in use. But to be safe, you may want to make sure all presentations are hosted on a wired connection or spend a little more to have a dedicated signal to your meeting.
7. Control Wi-Fi access.
“A lot of presenters ask us to remove the password from the room (we used to put the password on the whiteboard) as a lot of participants are distracted at the start of the training. We give the presenter the option if he/she would like the password visually in the room or give out the password at a later stage,” said Karsten. If that applies to your meeting, be sure to let your venue operator know.
8. Consider security needs.
Also keep in mind that VPNs, used by many larger corporations to ensure their company data and email is always sent through an encrypted network, may slow down traffic. “VPN’s by nature move internet traffic differently and inherently reduce connection speeds. It can make it hard to disseminate if it the user’s device or the internet provider when there is problem,” Judeh added.
9. Ask about tech support.
BYO (bring your own) laptops that are not configured properly, or presenters wanting to show a YouTube video live on free Wi-Fi can bring your meeting to a screeching halt. “Ensure there are support staff who can assist anyone who cannot connect so no one is without connectivity at any point during your meeting,” said Judeh.
10. Request usage reports.
Find a venue
Need to find a venue with internet access that meets your needs?
| Four questions planners should ask every venue:
• Is your internet managed internally or outsourced and managed remotely?
• Has your Wi-Fi Access Points been upgraded in the last 2 years?
• Can the venue provide usage reports on our event post meeting?
• Is there onsite venue IT support as well as AV support?