Meeting Your Outdoor Event’s Wi-Fi RequirementsSeptember 1, 2016

September 1, 2016

Meeting Your Outdoor Event’s Wi-Fi Requirements

CIT-2016-09Sep-Column2-Outdoor_Wi-Fi-860x418Figueroa,Milko-SmartSource-110x140Milko Figuero is the Director of Sales, Business Solutions Group, SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals in Hauppauge, New York, a leading national provider of computer, audio-visual and technology rental solutions and services.

In the fall 2015 Meetings Outlook Survey, Meeting Professionals International cited “Disruption caused by technology innovation as a category of concern” by 31 percent of its survey respondents. Among the top-of-mind concerns for meeting planners are Wi-Fi demands. While Wi-Fi demands are a concern for both indoor and outdoor events, the challenges for the latter or for events that combine both indoor and outdoor venues are greater. Assuring that an event’s Wi-Fi will reliably meet the needs of your outdoor event attendees is critical and will help avoid one of the most frequently reported causes of attendee frustration — inadequate and unreliable Wi-Fi.

Outdoor Event Wi-Fi 101

There are some basic tenets to follow regarding Wi-Fi solutions for outdoor events which every meeting planner should understand. They are as follows:

  • One size does not fit all. Unlike an indoor event that may rely, at least in part, on existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, an outdoor event has no infrastructure, power or hard-line internet and must often cover a large open space.
  • In addition to lacking Wi-Fi infrastructure, many outdoor events also are challenged by a lack of physical structures to house Wi-Fi equipment.
  • You must allow for the potential of unseasonable or inclement weather.
  • Wi-Fi can be costly, especially if there is no strategy in place to offset costs.
  • Event attendees depend on their mobile technology. Indoors or outdoors, expect mobile devices to be used for communication, information sharing and networking.

Keeping these factors in mind, there are measures to take to assure that an outdoor event will have reliable, simultaneous and uninterrupted long-range Wi-Fi coverage accessible to every attendee.

The Route to Ample, Secure Wi-Fi

Meeting planners will have multiple Wi-Fi infrastructure options to consider when establishing their outdoor Wi-Fi solution. Included among them are the bandwidth needed (i.e., cellular, satellite and microwave communications), and the wireless Internet Service Provider that can be used (e.g., AT&T, Verizon for cellular, HughesNet for satellite and Towerstream for microwave).

Planners also should consider options relating to signal distribution with choices such as wireless hotspot service with captive portals such as Peplink, wireless routers, enterprise routers and access points.

“Meeting planners will have multiple Wi-Fi infrastructure options to consider when establishing their outdoor Wi-Fi solution.”

The decisions made will depend on various considerations. For example, if an event planner is trying to provide Wi-Fi for up to 80 devices in a coverage area of up to 2,000 sf, and offer shared bandwidth with variable speeds, the Peplink hotspot service would be a viable, low-cost option for cellular. The downside could be bandwidth speeds and data capability.

For a Wi-Fi solution that will accommodate up to 120 devices in a coverage area of more than 2,000 sf, with dedicated bandwidth, a satellite option would be more appropriate. Here, the dedicated bandwidth and more consistent performance are pluses, but on the negative side, there is limited bandwidth and data capability.

For outdoor events demanding Wi-Fi service for hundreds to thousands of devices, a microwave option is warranted. It affords a customizable coverage area, dedicated bandwidth and a scalable solution with robust performance. It does, however, incur higher costs and a longer lead time for design and setup.

Ideally, all meeting planners will want to be able to address all of the common challenges when large numbers of people gather for an outdoor event. These range from weak signals and cellular network capacity issues to increased demand for bandwidth to support various user activities on multiple type devices and security breaches wherein unintended users are sharing bandwidth from the event’s Wi-Fi. The answer lies with the right technology, accessible via easy and cost-effective rental options, which are deployed by experienced, knowledgable Wi-Fi solution specialists.

Building a Sound Wi-Fi Solution

To provide reliable, ample Wi-Fi service to attendees who are likely to be roving across the grounds of an outdoor event, but still expecting fast, seamless connections, a long-range Wi-Fi array and routers should be considered. The array, which can be deployed using a secure private network with multiple routers, can provide excellent coverage. The array enables the meeting planner to control who is on each private network (e.g., exhibitors on one network, attendees on another, meeting planner staff on another); monitor how bandwidth is being used, by whom and in what locations; allocate bandwidth accordingly; and even cut off bandwidth to individuals who are abusing the service by consuming too much bandwidth.

Effective Outdoor Wi-Fi Solution at Work

When a global athletic footwear and apparel manufacturer held its multiday, national athletic competition, the company required a stable, secure Wi-Fi solution to cover a 75-acre outdoor venue and accommodate the Wi-Fi needs of more than 100 vendors, the competing athletes, production staff and live internet broadcast coverage. The bandwidth sources needed were both microwave and fiber. The Wi-Fi solution provided had to address challenges typical in an outdoor venue, including no power or internet infrastructure in the vendor’s area or the athletes’ tent, as well as no physical structures to hold the Wi-Fi equipment.

Unseasonable weather was another challenge. The event also required that an onsite command center be established so that the Wi-Fi engineers could continually monitor the system’s performance in real-time. A Wi-Fi network with five dedicated sub-networks for the vendor area, athletes’ tent, production staff, media and a backup line was established. Wi-Fi analytics were provided to facilitate realtime tracking of bandwidth usage and flexible bandwidth distribution.

To help offset Wi-Fi costs for the event sponsor, strategies including creating a captive portal opportunity, vendor booth add-on premium and using vouchers to help limit distribution and control Wi-Fi usage were applied. As a result of this effective Wi-Fi solution, this large-scale, globally watched outdoor sporting event was an all-around winner and absent of Wi-Fi inadequacies. C&IT

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