5th July 2012
Event management agency Connect Events recently released a blog post lamenting the extortionate cost of Wi-Fi at venues, noting that, particularly on IT-associated events, it is taken for granted that internet will be provided free of charge and to not provide this service as an organiser is not really an option.
They came up with their own solution – they purchased individual 'Mi-Fi' devices which they now own for future events, to the tune of around £2000 per year. Given that a single connection at a venue can be upwards of £500, this clearly has the potential to be a real money saver. The original blog post is here.
However, the device relies on a good signal and clearly comes with no support or back-up services, so if exhibitors are having trouble with their connection there is no-one to call. They reasoned that despite this it's still worth their while – venue Wi-Fi connections are not always reliable, they retain the ability to provide basic web browsing free of charge and they save costs.
With the need for internet becoming ever more crucial (people moving homes now make setting up their broadband a higher priority than sorting out their water, gas and electricity) and, outside of big venues, ever more freely available, the drive continues toward free internet access – at least at a basic browsing level – for all events and venues.
The reality is, of course, that there are substantial costs in supporting a broadband network. The bandwidth can't just be turned up and down to cater for the number of users, so the costs to the venue of providing and servicing that connection is high.
But these high costs drive organisers – and indeed exhibitors – to find work-around solutions. If you've got the technical know-how, why wouldn't you? In some venues, this exacerbates the problem as a single connection is ordered, but then used as a hub to create multiple connections. This means the venue has a higher bandwidth requirement than expected, affecting the service for other users.
Exhibition News wrote a good feature on this last November here which talks about why venue internet connections struggle to cope with the demand placed on them, noting that the level of demand placed on connections at exhibitions is incomparable to the demands on high street coffee shops or shopping malls. It's pointed out that exhibitors' own solutions make a bad situation worse. For many larger venues, the cost of improving infrastructure is high, so the question remains, how is this cost going to be met?
There has been talk of establishing a working party that will explore potential solutions. ABPCO has created a Cloud campaign championing free Wi-Fi. But several months on, where have we got to? What solutions are being considered by venues, organisers and Wi-Fi providers?
We'd love to hear your views and comments on the question of paying for and providing Wi-Fi at venues. And if you are driving the solutions as well as the debate, get in touch!