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| Written by the M&IW Team

Wi-Fi 101: Do You Have Enough Bandwidth for Your Event?

Originally published on June 6, 2016. Updated on October 4, 2023.

When it comes to meetings and events, some things are need-to-haves while others are nice-to-haves. Wi-Fi falls firmly into the first category along with power, water, and heat/AC. You wouldn’t plan an event without those three necessary utilities, so you shouldn’t skip Wi-Fi, either.

But don’t all venues have Wi-Fi available these days? Well, yes and no. As unbelievable as it may seem, some still don’t have in-house Wi-Fi available, and even those that do may only offer basic coverage. More bandwidth often comes at a cost, and as in-person events become more digital—mobile apps instead of printed agendas, live polling and Q&A, visual presentations accompanying every speaker, livestreaming to virtual attendees—events are needing more bandwidth than ever before.

Key Definitions for Event Wi-Fi

Before we dive in, let’s explore some key definitions to understand in order to have intelligent discussions about event Wi-Fi.

  • Bandwidth — The simplest way to explain bandwidth is to relate it to the size of a water hose. There is only so much water that can fit through the limited size of the hose. When the water that comes through the hose is divided and sent toward different people, that is the same as when people use some of the bandwidth of the network.
  • Throughput — Throughput, on the other hand, is how much data can actually be transmitted through an access point or the hardware that transmits the internet signal. It is limited by how many people can connect to a certain access point. Typically, each access point allows for 75–100 connections at a time. If too many devices are trying to connect to the same access point, users can experience a DOS (denial of service) and not be allowed into the network.
  • Partitioning — Partitioning is how the Wi-Fi is divided within a physical space. Asking how the bandwidth is partitioned between meeting spaces, hotel staff, and guest rooms, for instance, is extremely important to understand in order to design a network to support the event needs. Additionally, it is important to recognize if the partition is flexible or if it can be changed to allocate additional bandwidth to specific areas.

What to Know About Event Wi-Fi

Bad food used to ruin a meeting quicker than anything else. Now, it is bad food and bad Wi-Fi. Let’s break down some of the basics about what planners need to know about event Wi-Fi.

Personal experience with Wi-Fi doesn’t always translate to Wi-Fi experience at events.

Wi-Fi is all around us in our daily lives. The majority of us have personal networks at home and are very used to going into the nearest coffee shop, restaurant, and sometimes even outdoor park to pick up a free and reliable Wi-Fi network. Mobility has blurred the line between personal and professional environments, so it is easy to understand why it is a common misconception that the Wi-Fi at a meeting or event is easily accessible, ready-to-use, fast, and even free.

Free Wi-Fi isn’t always free.

If the Wi-Fi doesn’t provide enough bandwidth, network strength, or throughput to support the participants, the meeting or event experience is in serious jeopardy. The cost of free Wi-Fi can be an expensive opportunity cost. We have all experienced a slow network or the inability to access the Wi-Fi when the person sitting next to us is not experiencing any issues. This is a result of a common occurrence when the free network hasn’t been designed properly to allow for enough bandwidth or throughput or is just experiencing a high volume of traffic.

It’s not all about the bandwidth.

Bandwidth is such a commonly used term, even to describe one’s ability to complete their workload, that the question begs to be asked: Do we really understand what bandwidth is? Upload speeds, download speeds—we get the basic concept. A planner doesn’t need to know everything about how a network works. However, they do need to understand enough of the terms and technology to have an intelligent conversation about what they need and what they are getting.

A good Wi-Fi experience isn’t simply about bandwidth. It is also about network strength, throughput, latency, and how it is partitioned. All too often, a planner who is speaking with a venue technician doesn’t have a full understanding of what they are receiving, and the venue technician doesn’t necessarily understand the dynamics of the event needs. It is critical for the success of the event that we continue to close this gap, or our programs may suffer as a result from slowed networks and a lack of connectivity.

Plan and design your event Wi-Fi network just as your would design your food & beverage needs.

The biggest mistake planners make is to simply base the needs of the network off the number of attendees. In-depth conversations regarding the program needs are imperative to the success of the network. To ensure the Wi-Fi will meet the event’s needs, start by discussing these key questions with the facility or supplier partner:

  • What will the network be used for—basic internet surfing, downloading, polling, and/or streaming?
  • What types of apps will be used?
  • Where will users be located, all in one room or in separate spaces?

Just as a planner wouldn’t simply tell the venue that they need food for 500 people without explaining how many at each meal function and any special food sensitivities, neither should a planner skip over important details of the Wi-Fi needs.

Everyone is almost always using up a little bit of Wi-Fi.

Mobile devices don’t go idle when Wi-Fi is enabled. There are always apps running in the background that are utilizing the bandwidth and connecting to an access point. So if you have a room of 1,000 people connected to a couple access points and transmitting a little bit of data, even if no one is actively using the event app or even using their phones at all, it can still take up significant bandwidth and throughput.

Breaking Down the Cost of Event Wi-Fi

The conversation regarding the cost and Wi-Fi services provided needs to begin during the RFP, sourcing, and contracting process. There are two basic methods for the pricing of Wi-Fi, either the total amount of bandwidth allocated across unlimited users or the total number of concurrent connections. There are pros and cons to each method; however, the number of connections tends to be easier to plan around. Having these conversations early on will go a long way in keeping costs under control while providing planners with the appropriate network needs.

People involved in events tend to look at Wi-Fi access in two ways. Planners tend to think that it should be a cost of doing business, and properties tend to think it should be a source of profit—this is where negotiating becomes important. All conversations around the network should be addressed at the time of contract signing.

Let’s Get Technical

Working with M&IW’s event technology experts ensures your event goes off without a hitch, keeping everyone calm, cool, and connected. Contact us to learn more or get started today!

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