The stars at night are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap), deep in the heart of Texas. We sweat each day from the first of May (clap, clap, clap, clap), deep in the heart of Texas. We expect cold air indoors everywhere (clap, clap, clap, clap), deep in the heart of Texas.
With temperatures already in the mid-90s and no relief expected until October here in Austin, air conditioning is an expectation. Last week, that expectation went out every open window of my house when the A/C broke. As I sat there sweating in my sticky artificial leather desk chair. I thought “This is bad, but I’m still sitting here.” Two things would have made me pack up and head to Starbucks for the day: 10 more degrees or no Internet.
Connectivity, especially the wireless variety, has apparently jumped up the list of human needs to a spot somewhere between food/water/shelter and a comfortable ambient temperature. The importance of Wi-Fi in today’s society shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone. With free Wi-Fi rapidly becoming the norm, planners and venues must find a way to bring cheap but plentiful bandwidth to the meeting masses.
Here today, gone tomorrow
Planners and venues don’t often see eye to eye on this issue, and it’s no wonder. Hotels and conference centers spend fortunes on network infrastructure that becomes obsolete faster than a tech writer can think of a clever analogy. If it were as easy as piping in more bandwidth, they’d spend the money there and wouldn’t need a team of network engineers. Network hardware and infrastructure is typically on a five-to-10 year replacement cycle. Five to 10 years ago, people carried half as many devices using exponentially less bandwidth. Venues look for revenue streams and set pricing accordingly, desperate to stay cool against the rising mercury of technology.
Planners, on the other hand, are just trying not to melt. A bad connection can create more headaches than room arrangement, F&B and dozens of other stress-inducing details. The difference is that planners have been speaking in terms of hollow squares, over-set and corkage fees their entire careers. Now they’re negotiating contracts in the foreign language of Geek. Planners are forced to make decisions about how much bandwidth is needed and the number of access points based upon, at best, an educated guess.
So, who’s to blame for this mess? If we have to point fingers, it would have to be at attendees, but that’s like blaming a cat for not joining the herd. Given the opportunity, attendees will simultaneously connect three devices, sit in the back of a breakout session while streaming the opening session that they slept through, download four HD-quality movies in preparation for the flight home and FaceTime the family at every coffee break. That’s if the connection is both good and free. If both those criteria are not met, they will pull out their cellular hotspots which can wreak havoc on internal systems. At least that’s what I do while attending a conference.
Is Google Fiber an answer?
When a planner negotiates a contract with a venue, the A/C’s BTUs per attendee are rarely, if ever, discussed. Planners and attendees expect the room to be a comfortable 72 degrees and the venue knows that the HVAC system must be able to keep up in the heat of summer. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could expect the same from a Wi-Fi connection? What if you could attend or host a meeting and simply know the venue will provide a fast and reliable connection? Yes, that is very pie-in-the-sky thinking, but advancements like ultra-fast Google Fiber make it more achievable than ever.
Until bandwidth flows like the Niagara everywhere, it’s best to be open, understanding and forthcoming on both sides of the negotiation table. The market has not yet settled on any sort of pricing standard practices where planners can compare apples to apples. Prices range so wildly, it’s difficult to determine why one venue may include it at no additional cost while another may charge upward of $5,000 per day. Will that “free” service be adequate or are you really getting what you pay for? Don’t fret too much. There are resources to help. The CIC’s bandwidth estimator is a great place to start. At the minimum, this estimate makes you consider how attendees will use the Internet. With a little knowledge, forethought and open dialogue, there’s no need to sweat over Wi-Fi.
Stay connected with us! Where do you see meeting and event Wi-Fi heading? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.