Working Smarter

Understanding Wi-Fi

The perceptions, the reality, and the right questions to ask about providing fast, reliable wireless Internet access for your attendees.

As a society we are consuming data at an astonishing rate, setting new records each year as more and more smart devices get purchased and put into use. What does that have to do with your meeting? Everything. With growing numbers of places — libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, and entire downtowns — providing free Wi-Fi, attendees now show up at a venue expecting the same thing.

How can you meet their expectations without blowing your budget, or having to ask your venue to give some-thing away that is undoubtedly a large profit center? Let’s explore everyone’s perceptions first.

The attendee

When the W-Fi connection at a show isn’t fast, secure, and free, the attendee starts thinking, “Why can I go down the street and pull Wi-Fi from McDonald’s for free, but not at the show I am paying good money to attend?”

The show organizer

Many view Wi-Fi like air — it doesn’t cost the facility any-thing to turn on since the access points are already there, you don’t see it, and there is no real labor involved to use it.

The third-party planner S/he is probably thinking, “Most people carry 3G- or 4G-enabled smart devices. Let’s forget Wi-Fi all together and just have them use their personal devices!”

The facility
The facility may not have a much better understanding of Wi-Fi. They contract their Wi-Fi services to a third party, who tries to convey that there is a cost associated with the bandwidth being requested and with maintaining and upgrading the current system.

Ask these questions to help work through those perceptions:

Why does McDonald’s have free Wi-Fi and the venue does not? These places offer much smaller networks to run for a significantly decreased amount of people for a very limited amount of time.

The Wi-Fi access points are already there, so it doesn’t cost anything to turn it on, does it? Many meeting facilities outsource Wi-Fi service to a technology supplier, which pays a percentage of the user fee back to the facility as a commission.

Why can’t attendees just use their own cellular 3G and 4G data plans? Smart-phone providers are clamping down on unlimited-data plans. Plus, there’s a potential spectrum crisis on the horizon. Read two articles from CNET: IPhone and Android users’ data-consumption patterns and the looming wireless-spectrum crisis.

What Wi-Fi package are you buying? Providers usually package their Wi-Fi as either concurrent connections or total bandwidth available. Knowing your attendees’ habits — emailing vs. streaming and Skyping — will help you figure out which one to purchase.

What happens if you exceed your allotted purchases? Get an answer before going on site. Once you’ve reached max-imum capacity, some facilities will not let additional connections and users in, while others will keep letting users join at a significantly higher price point.

Two More Tips

  • Know what spectrums your facility offers. Different Internet devices require different spectrums, and each one is optimized differently for different types of devices. Knowing what your facility offers will help you understand how many connections you can get per access point and the speed at which the network will perform during peak usage.
  • Ask for detailed reporting on Wi-Fi consumption. A good history can go a long way. By getting a report on your attendees’ previous Internet usage, you can start to form a history that will help making decisions about future years that much easier.

Two articles from CNET: iPhone and Android users’ data-consumption patterns and the looming wireless-spectrum crisis.

Timothy J. LaFleur , CMP, is manager of innovative mobility solutions for Meetings & Incentives. Contact him at

Timothy J. LeFleur, CMP

Timothy J. LeFleur, CMP, is manager of innovative mobility solutions for Meetings & Incentives