The Intersection

Managing Bandwidth Costs

How to secure reliable and reasonably priced wireless service for events. Plus, a simple survey question you can ask your attendees that helps you pay a fair price.

These days, we expect free Internet access in many of the places where we spend time: Airports, hotel lobbies, coffee shops. So why does Wi-Fi continue to be so variable — and expensive — inside meeting spaces?

“Essentially, the internet is free. The connection to the internet is not free,” said Michael Owen, managing partner for EventGenuity LLC, in “Managing Bandwidth Needs,” the latest video for The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV.”Did you ever pay $5 for a cup of coffee? Somebody’s paying for it.”

Business-event professionals know this well. Their multiple-device-wielding attendees expect free and fast Wi-Fi, but the service that meeting venues provide, and the prices they charge for that service, can vary wildly. Is there a more seamless way for planners to negotiate the price of Wi-Fi for their next meeting — and make sure that wireless service lives up to expectations? 

First, it’s key to know what kind of usage attendees will need. “The cost of the data isn’t necessarily what’s driving the cost of the Internet up. It’s distributing that [data] to the people that it needs to go to,” said John Rissi, PSAV’s senior vice president, operations, who is also in the video. “It’s so critical, when you go into a meeting space, to understand what your bandwidth requirements are.” 

Since those bandwidth demands are ever-growing, hotels and other meeting venues can sometimes have a hard time keeping up with demand — which means holding them to an acceptable level of service. Mark Dominguez, senior program manager for corporate event technology and GC services for Intel, plans some pretty bandwidth-heavy meetings — and so he experiences first-hand how expensive wireless service has become. “There’s a lot of revenue associated with this stuff, so it’s not going to be free,” said Dominguez in an interview. “There’s no real incentive [for change], aside from events going elsewhere, and [planners] citing the cost of network services in driving the business out of a city. It’s not going to change.”

Instead, Dominguez has come up with a hedge against overpaying for poor service: creating performance-based contracts, despite pushback from venues. “Performance is not just based on downloadable bandwidth — it’s tied to the attendee experience,” Dominguez said. “Because at the end of today, if the attendee cannot get on the network, and the network does not function correctly, then it doesn’t matter how it’s engineered.”

Intel assesses network performance via post-con attendee surveys, and asks attendees this simple survey question: “The reliability and quality of the event-provided wireless network service met my needs.” If it didn’t, the provider is paid less for that service; if performance exceeded expectations, Intel kicks in an extra percentage above of the original bid. “So there’s an incentive to do well,” Dominguez said.

“Wifi and connectivity can no longer be an afterthought or a negotiating point,” Owen said in the video. “It has to be planned just as everything else, equal to your food and beverage, equal to your room-block pickup. It’s that important. It’s that critical to the success of your meeting.”

Tips for Managing Bandwidth Needs

1. Know your bandwidth need before selecting your meeting venue.

2. Start to calculate your bandwidth need based on number of attendees and expected devices per attendee.

3. Don’t expect venue partners or salespeople to know more than you about bandwidth.

4. Find a trusted advisor who can work with whoever controls the network.

5. Attention to detail is a great way to build your “brand” reputation.

Want to earn CEUs? Watch the Intersection video at

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.

  • tommariner

    Yes individual access is crucial, but the insanity of thousands of dollars for WiFi access to booth providers for technical exhibits is amazing. To charge more than the rent of their home office building to rent a 100 by 100 floor space for a week is interesting, but then more than the home office Internet access for a year will start driving exhibitors and therefore meetings out of town.

  • Jim Kelley

    John and Michael great session…a few observations. Peeling back the onion to get to the core issue of distribution and access points is where the solution is going to be found. I agree the that those two points are importnst core issues and therefore often the intersection of friction for everyone. A key issue is often the facilities infrastructure related to distribution and the inability to flex and adapt quickly and at a rate to keep up with clients needs ( not a desire or willingness to adapt, just the reality that they often can not move quick enough). With that being said why is there not a broader approach and willingness to let the client choose third party providers to handle the issues of distribution and access points. The technolgy exists, the providers exists. To put this into context remember there was a time when most large facilities were in the business of electrical distribution, which is often not the situation any longer. In short we have made huge steps in defining the core issues, the next steps need to be focused on the solution and the realization that these exist in the marketplace in various formats and the clients need to have the freedom to choice which service solution is best for their events. When this occurs we all win.