“If you’re a meeting planner, you don’t just tell the chef you want food,” said John Rissi, senior vice president of operations for PSAV Presentation Services. “It’s the same thing when you say you want Internet access — there is a lot that goes into determining needs.” But while everyone knows the difference between a chop and a steak, many planners admit far less familiarity with Wi-Fi — something their attendees increasingly expect to be as readily available as coffee during meetings.
“There are no events without bandwidth,” said Lawrence Leonard, chief operating officer for the Convention Industry Council (CIC). “The need to connect to the Internet is pervasive. Like electricity or water, the meeting just doesn’t happen without it.” However, measuring bandwidth — the amount of data that can be transmitted or received per second — hasn’t been easy for planners to grasp. Unsure of how their attendees’ Internet usage will add up, they find conversations and negotiations with venues and event-technology specialists tricky.
To shed light on the issue, CIC’s APEX Standards Review Council (SRC) — managed by Leonard and consisting of 14 event professionals from all areas of the industry — formed a Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup this past March, and in October released the APEX Bandwidth Estimator.
PSAV played a key role, providing “expertise in managing and delivering bandwidth for meeting and events,” said Stuart Ruff, CMP, the Risk and Insurance Management Society’s director of meetings and events. Ruff serves as a member of the Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup, chaired by Rissi. PSAV delivered the Bandwidth Estimator — which it had been using internally for a couple of years — “to the Standards Review Council basically as a give-back to the industry,” Leonard said.
The easy-to-use online tool allows event professionals to plug in their expected number of attendees and level of bandwidth needed (e.g., high for streaming video, low for email and website access), and then produces an approximation of how much bandwidth will be required. “It was designed as a quick reference,” Ruff said. “It’s not going to be accurate all the time, but it’s to give planners an estimate of what they need.”
The Bandwidth Estimator maybe available, but the workgroup hasn’t disbanded. Members are updating the CIC glossary to include new technology terms, and also deliver presentations on bandwidth at major industry conferences, including IMEX America in Las Vegas this past October and PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2013 in Orlando this month.
Global bandwidth consumption is rising 30 percent annually, and “there is evidence to suggest that the meetings industry is outpacing that,” said Matt Harvey, PSAV’s vice president of client network services. “It’s important for planners to understand that what they needed last year won’t necessarily be enough … this year.”
Breakout: Mastering the Dark Arts
“It is a dark art, trying to predict bandwidth,” said PSAV’s Matt Harvey. In his experience, planners tend to overestimate their bandwidth needs. “It’s very difficult on short notice to bring in things like [extra bandwidth] to hotels,” he said, “so we tend to tell them, ‘You don’t really [need that much].’”
Within PSAV’s network of more than 1,200 hotels — now expanding after the company’s merger with Swank Audio Visuals LLC in November – the amount of bandwidth used for large events has been around 85 megabits per second (Mbit/s). Harvey said PSAV has received requests from planners for 500 Mbit/s. While it is “disastrous” to underestimate, he said, it is very expensive to overestimate. “It’s important that everyone use common language when it comes to bandwidth. Incorporate it into your event planning early, so you can work with your facility to get that need.”
To view the APEX Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup’s slide presentation at IMEX America, visit convn.org/apex-imex.
Read “Understanding Wi-Fi,” our October Working Smarter column, at convn.org/wi-fi-lafleur.