Internet Capability - 10 Key Factors

Having reliable internet access is vital. Delegates 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 tops list of meeting must-haves. Research by the International Association of Conference Centres “IACC” research on the topic shows that 58% of meeting planners won’t shortlist a venue without an internet performance guarantee. 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. 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-Fi. Before 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.

Check the Speed - A fast internet connection may be important to your meeting delegates and presenters, but speed (Mbps) isn’t the only factor that affects the final upload and download times. A lot of other elements impact the overall bandwidth.  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. To test a venue’s internet speed, you can use a speed check app such as:

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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.

Calculate bandwidth needed - Digital density (how many devices are on the network) can affect the overall internet speed. Audience collaboration tools, video, social media and many gaming or interactive applications require a lot of bandwidth.  What will your delegates be using internet for? Will you have interactive audience polling? Live broadcasting? Content streaming? Online check-in? Make sure you consider all usage needs and the size of your audience in order to determine how much bandwidth you need. And let’s not forget, your delegates will also be using bandwidth for personal use, checking social networks and streaming video – all of this must be considered. "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," To determine how much bandwidth your meeting needs, use this handy broadband estimator.

How much bandwidth? A rule of thumb is 10 mbps per 100 delegates

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Ask about infrastructure - Internet speed is also affected by reliability and distribution of bandwidth throughout a venue. The overall infrastructure (type of equipment and network connections, for example) and the age of the equipment can have an impact. Two years ago the technology for room Wifi access points developed significantly and facilitate higher usage volumes. Newer infrastructure can handle more connections, but the type of internet service provider (ISP) the venue uses makes a difference, as well.  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.

Consider a private network - Keep in mind that free access is not necessarily better when it comes to Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi is sometimes shared between all guests and public areas. If you need a dedicated connection for your meeting to ensure no interruptions in presentations or online demos, for example, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. 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. 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. Alternatively there are a variety of satellite based alternatives which may be appropriate.

Map the access point locations - If your event presenters and attendees are relying on Wi-Fi, it’s important to consider where access points are located when planning your meeting layout. An access point is a device (usually a router or relay) that provides internet access for an area of approximately 3,000 sq ft. Each access point can serve about 50-100 people. Newer access points may be able to handle more people than older ones. 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.

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Consider wired connections - For presenters or exhibitors, especially any using video or conferencing functions, it may be best to go with a hardwired connection on a dedicated computer hosting the video conferencing app or presentation. Be sure to test by plugging in directly to your network and running the test. 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.

Control Wi-Fi access - Displaying the Wi-Fi password prominently can make connection easier for guests. However, sometimes, not every presenter wants this. They may desire to keep attendees focused on the meeting or presentation, and not be on their devices.

Consider security needs - Setting your meeting’s Wi-Fi behind a firewall with a login will help keep data sent over the network safe, and will prevent bandwidth interference. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Wi-Fi connections with security enabled may make connection through VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) difficult. General connectivity issues are usually resolved by turning the Wi-Fi on/off on the device or forgetting the network and re-joining. 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.

Ask about tech support - Be sure you have a discussion up front with the venue about what IT, tech or AV support services they provide in relation to the equipment you are using, renting or bringing, and troubleshooting any internet connectivity problems that may arise. If you are using an outside vendor, will tech support be available to set up and handle any emergencies that come up during the presentation? If you are using your own or borrowed equipment, can you handle technology problems that might arise, or have you made arrangements for a vendor to do that? Be sure you know who to contact and what the response times will be. 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.

Request usage reports - Immediately after the event, be sure to obtain usage information from the venue. This data will help you build a history of bandwidth usage for your event. Let the venue know up front you would like to collect this information. Following these tips will help you select a venue that can meet the specific internet demands of your meeting.

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?