AV + Connectivity

Breaking Down Bandwidth: 4 Things You Need to Know

A guide to understanding what it is, where it comes from, and why it’s so important.

There’s a misconception within the events industry that bandwidth is the same thing as Wi-Fi. However, bandwidth is actually the stuff that makes Wi-Fi work. It’s usually the biggest factor in calculating the cost to bring Wi-Fi to a meeting. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what it is, where it comes from, and how to estimate bandwidth needs for a conference.

Here, SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals breaks down what you need to know about bandwidth, so you can keep costs contained and still provide a pleasant, high-speed experience for your attendees. 

1. What is bandwidth?

Without getting too technical, bandwidth in its purest form is a frequency that’s used to transmit a signal. However, in the course of our daily lives, we usually think of it as the internet. For the purposes of event planning, that understanding will work. The question then is: How do I bring dedicated internet to my event? The answer is through Wi-Fi access points.

2. Where does bandwidth come from?

There are several sources of bandwidth and each has its own advantages and limitations. And because bandwidth is a two-way exchange of data, it can occur symmetrically or asymmetrically. Symmetric bandwidth allows for the same rate of transfer in both directions, up and down, i.e., 50 megabits per second (mbps) up/50 mbps down. Asymmetrical bandwidth occurs when the rate of transfer is different in each direction, i.e., 10 mbps up/50 mbps down.

To ensure a positive experience, it is always best to work with a seasoned Wi-Fi engineer who can vet the bandwidth options against your desired outcome for the event. Below is a quick overview of bandwidth sources.

3. How much bandwidth do you need?

As event organizers, you’ve probably worked with venues that promise fast and reliable Wi-Fi, but fail to disclose the “but, ifs” that often prevent them from providing it. Despite what most venues want you to believe, you are not required to adhere to their “exclusive” arrangements with in-house telecommunications or audiovisual providers. (You can read more about how to avoid being roped into an “exclusive” IT vendor contract here.)

To determine how much bandwidth is needed for an event, consider how many people are attending — keep in mind the average user carries two to three devices to an event — and how they’ll be using the internet. Since bandwidth can be expensive, you’ll want to only use it in the most mission critical ways. That often means limiting Wi-Fi access to production staff at a large event, or confining it to specific geographic spaces.

4. How does bandwidth work?

While bandwidth is fairly standard, how bandwidth is dispersed across a convention is not. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to Wi-Fi in an event environment. Executing a successful Wi-Fi plan in a temporary environment is part science and part art. It is often too big a job for your average IT technician, especially for outdoor events or events that plan to support the news media. 

Once a bandwidth source has been determined, the Wi-Fi engineer will assess the venue itself to determine what, if any, added infrastructure is needed to distribute the bandwidth. During an event, the Wi-Fi engineer can manage the flow of bandwidth from a centralized command center, with the ability to shift bandwidth from one use to another instantaneously.

For example, in Figure A below the allotted bandwidth for the Vendor Village at this event was 40 mbps. On the fourth day (labeled “25”), usage exceeded that amount. To accommodate that usage, the Wi-Fi engineer was able to shift bandwidth from the Athlete’s Village, where usage was lower than expected, shown in Figure B.

Figure A
Figure B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding the difference between bandwidth and Wi-Fi is integral to successfully bringing fast and reliable internet to an event. Sources for bandwidth in an event setting vary from low-cost and easy-to-implement solutions with limited performance capabilities to high-cost, complex solutions that provide robust performance with minimal chance of failure. Working with a seasoned and reputable Wi-Fi vendor to execute high-profile events, especially where there are aggressive social-media marketing expectations, is recommended to optimize the use of bandwidth and keep costs down.

Watch here to learn more about how to get Wi-Fi for your events.

April Moore

Event WiFi Specialist, Wifi@smartsourcerentals.com