The MICE Supplier Broadband Battlefield

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Connectivity is becoming the battlefront where the suppliers, from hotels to venues, are struggling as more users expect to be conected via their smartphones and laptops.  The increasing expectation of users to have WI-FI and mobile connectivity that is either free or with few restraints.  Among business travellers, access to emails, and corporate websites provide the necessary tools of doing their business and is simply an expected must. WI-FI internet access is the most important hotel amenity according to TripAdvisor and some 88% of travelers expect WI-FI internet access to be free of charge. More telling, 65% of those surveyed are prepared to use free WI-FI internet in an accommodation’s lobby. If this message alone is taken away by accomodation providers, the impact on suppliers costs become significant. A further industry survey noted that internet access is at the top of things most guests care about hotels (including luxury, upscale, mid-scale full-service, economy/budget, and extended stay properties).

When it comes to events, meeting attendees are using more wireless internet-enabled devices and business travelers and expect to check email, use social networks (40% of all tweets are mobile). Until the issue of expensive roaming charges and inter-phone provider connection and cost issues are resolved – for  international attendees, WI-FI access is their lifeline to stay connected by using their mobile devices to connect to websites and VOIP phone(eg Skype) services.

With attendees settimg the scene, event planners are pressing venues for free event WI-FI and are using this as one criterion for venue selection. However, such moves are not without problems not only for the venue, but also the user. The shear number of potential users at some events can cause traffic on the WI-FI or mobile service to skyrocket. Even hotels suffer from low internet speeds as guests tend to cluster usage times on a network with a limited bandwith available. While the growth of “mobile applications”(Apps) continues, look for a reassessment by users at what apps actually deliver in regards to productivity and business.

The demand for broadband can be enormous and the practicality and cost of providing coverage is a real issue at some large events. At one recent event 5,000 attendees consumed one terabyte (one thousand billion bytes) of data via WI-FI in four days. This becomes an issue especially as many smartphones have applications running in the background, let alone the times when mobile users actually use an application.

One major hotel internet provider found that in 2011, 25% of devices on their network are iPads where video and media consumption uses 400% more data that the average iPhone.
This explosion in bandwidth requirements that need to be handled by hotels and venues may be an unsustainable cost.  According to David Garrison, iBahn CEO, “The iPad is the final nail in the ‘all internet is free’ coffin.”
Similarly, event organizers and venue managers have split views on whether attendees should receive free WI-FI. and only 48% of facility managers advocate free WI-FI and a significant portion of venue managers feel event managers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to event WI-FI.

The fact that users are expecting Wi-Fi connectivity, with increasing bandwidth requirements there is increasing discussion on finding a solution especially when one report suggests that meeting venues need to plan on high annual growth in WI-FI bandwidth requirements at least for the next five years.  According to Wireless Technology Group for Cisco, there are workable solutions where even very large venues with thousands of simultaneous users can be managed in a way that good quality wireless internet signal can be provided.

Meeting venues will need to be more active in providing detailed planning assistance to meeting planners to help them determine the Wi-Fi and internet requirements. By having a clearer understanding of user requirements and expectations, types of devices, number of users, hotspot locations –  venues can plan their capabilities and limitations well and communicate them to clients.  Likewise, meeting planners also must evaluate the specific needs of their attendees, their expectations, their internet requirements, and must be very clear to venues about what they expect in detailed requests for proposal.

By implementing a tiered set of access from free to Premium and rates that are aceptable to exhibitors to ensure the possibility of providing a service during the event and sponsorship advertising of services can hopefully contain the expolsion of data usage and cost to provide it until technology comes to the rescue. Event specific applications with trackable sponsorship could also offset costs.

The major challenge will be ensuring that the cost of providing the service does not become motivated by profit, but rather to ensure the experience of attendees fits reasonable expectations and fees.

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