Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a ruling on a controversial practice of some hotels and in-house convention center Internet service providers. Jamming the signal of a mobile hot spot or personal wireless device is apparently a no no in the eyes of the government. While the ruling is considered a win for exhibitors and hotel guests, it also paves the way for event planners to have more choices and negotiating power when it comes to venue-wide wireless access.
The FCC was pretty clear in its decision stating, ”No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi‑Fi network. Such action is illegal, and violations could lead to the assessment of substantial monetary penalties.”
So, now that a clear precedent has been established for third-party providers of Internet access—the MiFi users and the companies that sell or rent hot spot equipment—there is little (legally) standing in the way for planners to entertain proposals for venue-wide wireless Internet access from outsourced and independent providers of temporary event WiFi. In fact, there are some very good reasons why they could benefit substantially from doing so.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE
The first, and most obvious, benefit of being able to work with a third-party wireless WiFi engineering firm is the ability to source competitive bids for the service. For so long, planners had only two choices for wireless Internet access: to use the in-house provider or forego offering wireless Internet access to exhibitors and attendees. That has changed. Planners may now openly (as far as the government is concerned) choose from among several companies, which enhances their bargaining power with the prospective providers and the venue.
That’s good news for planners because outsourced WiFi engineering companies can often deliver capabilities that many in-house providers can’t:
Pricing consistency. There is no consistent WiFi pricing model for hotels and convention centers. Some charge event planners based on data consumption. Others charge based on the number of devices or number of users at the event. One outsourced provider used consistently across multiple events and venues (more on that below) can bring organizers a level of pricing consistency that is predictable and manageable.
Service customization. Every event is different. Many require various levels of customized access—for example, separate subnets for production teams, attendees, and event management. Others need more sophisticated local area networks to support activities such as webcasting or live streaming. Experienced third-party providers can configure network access to accommodate very specific requirements.
Location flexibility. For the most part, venues have fixed infrastructures of hardwired routers and access points. Premium WiFi architecture teams, on the other hand, bring their own arsenal of WiFi equipment to a project in order to enhance or expand on existing WiFi infrastructure or to distribute a fresh source of Internet bandwidth, like Microwave, as a job requires.
Backup. Many hotels have only one source of Internet service from outside the building. If that source becomes suddenly unavailable or congested, the event can suffer. Third-party WiFi architect teams typically have multiple sources for Internet bandwidth at their disposal, so that if one external network goes down, they can switch to a backup provider seamlessly and instantly, without interruption of service.
Advanced technology. Wireless technology moves fast. Convention centers—even those that partner with large companies to provide fixed infrastructure in exchange for a profit share of revenue—find it difficult to keep pace with advances in wireless technology. Third-party WiFi architects, however, upgrade equipment often and stay at the forefront of WiFi best practices to stay competitive in the marketplace. For meeting planners, this can bring peace of mind, when stable and secure WiFi is mission critical to an event.
GOING ONE BETTER
There is another aspect to this growing freedom of choice. Event organizers with a regular portfolio of events, even if the events move to different cities, can rely on a single third-party wireless architect to support all of their events year round. That capability comes with its own set of perks:
Institutional knowledge. Having to reinvent the wheel every time an event locates in a new venue is burdensome for the planner. Working with one company who knows the requirements, participant profile, and Internet usage habits of a group’s exhibitors and attendees reduces the workload and can lead to better service for the event participants.
Analytics. Most venues can provide usage analytics to event planner customers. Many outsourced companies though can take analytics a step further and benchmark usage metrics against other clients or even against the group’s other events. They can also customize reports based on a client’s preferences.
Advocacy. In-house providers, while accountable indirectly to exhibitors, attendees, and event organizers, work primarily on behalf of the venue. Third-party wireless engineering companies are retained directly by the event organizer and are accountable directly to him or her. When organizers work consistently with one partner company, it deepens the relationship, as does the service provider’s ability to anticipate the needs of the planner.
Economies of scale. Another benefit of working with a single partner is package pricing. Even though every event is configured differently, multiple events often qualify for pricing and/or service concessions so that overall costs are reduced.
What started out as the necessary need for exhibitors and hotel guests to take Internet access into their own hands has paved the way for free market competition and elevated service capabilities. The FCC filing confirmed what many third-party WiFi engineering companies already knew. Convention centers and hotels may not override an individual’s or an organization’s ability to choose its own mode of Internet access. In a seller’s market, it’s nice to finally see planners getting a break.
To learn more about how WiFi can be used to optimize your next indoor or outdoor event, please click on the link to our podcast featuring myself and April Moore, a former planner and leading special event account manager here at SmartSource Rentals.
About the Author
With more than 20 years of event technology experience under his belt, Milko Figueroa is more than a tech geek. He’s a tech geek with personality. He also has a deep understanding of customer needs and a library worth of real-life knowledge of how to execute technology in complex and sometimes unorthodox situations. Milko is the expert on WiFi technology at SmartSource Rentals and leads a team of seasoned WiFi engineers who have produced events at indoor and outdoor venues across the country for Fortune 100 companies. He can be reached at [email protected]