Smart phones are smarter than ever, streaming has never been easier or more common, and the constantly connected technology of modern society is pushing events to jaw-dropping heights. That is, if your internet connection doesn’t crash.
Thankfully, Ron Fariss, sales manager for the internet services division of meetings and events company PSAV, and the most recent Smart Meetings webinar host, had several suggestions for how planners can ensure they know what they are paying for with hotel internet. From bandwidth and network infrastructure to the support team a hotel provides, the key to a great experience is knowing what to look for. His webinar, “Network Ninja in Training: A Meeting Planner’s Path to a Successful Internet Event,” outlined the fundamentals planners need to be familiar with, and the questions to ask when selecting a venue.
Steve Jobs famously halted his presentation when launching the iPhone 4 because the example websites wouldn’t load. To continue, he had to ask members of the press in his audience to turn off their Wi-Fi. According to Fariss, that embarrassment resulted from a simple mistake many people make about internet bandwidth for events.
There is only so much room on the highway, as Fariss put it. A shared network connection, while cheaper, means everyone—everyone in your event, other events and possibly the entire hotel—are driving on the same highway. A dedicated connection, on the other hand, is the equivalent of having your own personal lanes set aside just for you.
“If internet is important to you—and there are groups these days that say, ‘Internet is the foundation of our event,’ then I would tell meeting planners that what you’re asking for is dedicated bandwidth,” Fariss said.
For events with more than 100 attendees, he recommends paying the extra money. But even smaller events might need dedicated bandwidth if the presenter—the Steve Jobs of that scenario—needs totally reliable access. “You definitely do not want your presenter…sharing bandwidth with anybody else.”
For a medium-to-large event, you should look for venues with anywhere from 250 MB to 1 GB of bandwidth. This has skyrocketed in the past decade, leading to higher costs. But it is also what most modern events require.
Another major contributor to cost is the need for a modern infrastructure. “Hotel networks used to last eight to ten years,” Fariss explained. “Technology was moving very slowly, and everybody was just using wired lines. Then suddenly we all started showing up as attendees, we had our new devices, and we all want wireless. Suddenly, technology is moving so fast because we are buying new devices every six months or a year.” As a result, hotel and conference center networks now typically last only three to four years.
When scoping out a venue, always ask how long it has been since the team upgraded its network. If it is longer than five years, Fariss advised caution. Newer devices will be more likely to have problems connecting.
Admittedly, this unrelenting pressure to upgrade is reflected in what planners are asked to pay. “Oftentimes, hotels are either paying for a network they just put in or saving for a network they know they need to install very soon,” he said. If a hotel offers event internet access for a relatively low cost, Fariss recommended asking why.
The next issue is access points—the specific points in a building’s network layout where devices can connect. Secure an access-point diagram from a venue. While simple coverage used to be enough, today’s needs require overlapping coverage from dual-band access points, allowing for 150 devices to connect per point.
“You might be able to get all the bandwidth in the world, and you might be able to get dedicated bandwidth. But if there isn’t a good network infrastructure to distribute out all that bandwidth—particularly to your attendees and your group—that’s going to be a bottleneck,” Fariss said.
Whether they end up needing it or not, planners also need to know what support system a hotel has in place for its network. “When you have issues, you’re going to want somebody in that room immediately, ASAP,” Fariss said.
Treat technical issues as a given, he continued. “Everyone understands there are going to be issues. That’s just the technical side of things. The frustration comes from the folks onsite not having adequate information for ‘When is the fix going to take place?’” he said.
Support often comes in the form of a third-party company called a network operations center (often abbreviated as a NOC) that can provide network-wide fixes. Planners need to ask about that company, and whether they do preventive maintenance or are simply on call when Steve Jobs is left standing on the stage, fuming.