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 www.pcma.org/theintersection.