Clear Solutions to Spotty Wi-Fi

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wifi-at-outdoor-eventsAttendees expect to post, tweet, snap and share, indoors and out

Weather is no longer the biggest challenge when it comes to outdoor events: reliable Wi-Fi is. Many event planners learn this the hard way when the complaints start rolling in because of dropped signals and the inability to connect.

Blame it on some basic misconceptions regarding Wi-Fi for outdoor events and more sophisticated requirements associated with establishing a sound Wi-Fi solution for outdoor venues. Separating the facts from the fiction and learning what it takes to design and implement an effective outdoor Wi-Fi solution is a must for all event planners.

Myths & Misconceptions

Probably the most prevalent myth associated with outdoor Wi-Fi solutions is that they’re the same as indoor solutions. They aren’t. They must address challenges such as a lack of necessary infrastructure, power or hard line internet, noisy environments due to radio frequency interference and the need for physical structures to house Wi-Fi equipment. Large outdoor events may also be plagued by bigger crowds creating congestion on the wireless network, which in turn prevents mobile devices from connecting.

This can be especially frustrating given the emphasis on social media, wherein many event planners are encouraging exhibitors and attendees to share tweets and Instagram posts to showcase their events.

In 2009, three years after Twitter was first introduced, South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference experienced this firsthand. Thousands of attendees couldn’t get an AT&T signal because they were all attempting to use Twitter at the same time.

Of course, today there are many more mobile apps in use at once, as well as the increased inclination to text and send photos and videos, all of which can easily disrupt service when the right Wi-Fi solution isn’t in place.

Wi-Fi at outdoor events is also used for live streaming, real-time data and lead capture, facilitation of payroll processes, medical/emergency services, RFID ticketing and vendor transactions.

Wi-Fi solutions are not one size fits all. Factors such as existing infrastructure, venue size and number of attendees dictate which Wi-Fi solution is necessary.

Designing a Reliable & Secure Solution

Event planners who are seeking technology support should be prepared to answer the following questions:

• How many and what types of devices should the Wi-Fi accommodate?
• What are the dimensions of the outdoor venue?
• Which kinds of functions will need to be accommodated by the Wi-Fi solution? This includes medical/emergency communications requiring Voice Over Internet Phone (VOIP) lines, uploading of files and live streaming.
• Do you plan to offer shared bandwidth with variable speeds?

To develop the optimum Wi-Fi solution for an outdoor event, careful consideration must be given to several key components.

• Bandwidth required: cellular, satellite and microwave communications
• The Internet Service Provider that will be used, such as Verizon or AT&T for cellular; HughesNet for satellite; and Towerstream for microwave
• Signal distribution options: wireless hot spots service with captive portals, wireless routers, enterprise routers and access points

The more devices, the greater the need for dedicated bandwidth, which is best facilitated with a satellite option. Each option brings its own challenges: A large event where hundreds or thousands of devices will be used requires microwave communications. Fewer devices may be able to rely on a hot spot such as Peplink.

To ensure service to all groups relying on Wi-Fi, the network provider may allocate bandwidth for various groups by creating subnets. A viable solution for achieving reliable connectivity at an outdoor event is to build a long-range Wi-Fi array with routers. Using a secure private network with multiple routers, the array can deliver reliable, ample service.

The added benefit of a Wi-Fi array is that it gives the meeting planner the ability to continually monitor use of the bandwidth and to what extent each group is using it. In the event that one group is overusing it to the detriment of other attendees, the meeting planner can adjust the bandwidth of that group.

The Price of Connectivity

The Wireless Broadband Alliance estimated that the number of public hot spots grew at a rate of 350 percent from 2011 to 2015. The investment to create a viable Wi-Fi solution for an outdoor event can be substantial.

There are, however, creative ways to offset the costs for Wi-Fi. Event planners can consider offering their exhibitors and sponsors the opportunity to advertise their brand and products on a captive portal. Planners can also limit Wi-Fi distribution to control costs.

What they should avoid doing is charging the attendees, exhibitors and sponsors for Wi-Fi access. It can potentially earn them a fine from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which ultimately regulates wireless internet in the United States. More importantly, it would not be well-received by event participants and would prevent them from freely promoting your event.


Milko Figueroa is the director of sales for Business Solutions, SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals, one of the nation’s leading providers of computer, audiovisual and technology solutions for businesses and events. For more information visit smartsourcerentals.com.