Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2013

Internet Access 101

Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor

You need to have basic knowledge about what goes into wiring your meetings, says CIC's Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup - because what you don't know about Internet access can hurt you.

When industry professionals on the Convention Industry Council's (CIC) Standards Committee (formerly the Standards Review Council) began to review the forms used in conjunction with CIC's online RFP workbook, they found a number of questions that seemed not only outdated but outright antiquated. They included “How many telephones does each hotel room have?” and “Are there long-distance call charges?”

What is striking, said MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, CHE, president of Bobrow Associates Inc. and chair of the Standards Committee (SC), is that those questions seemed relevant when the forms were updated just five years ago. Since then, the pace of technological change has been incredible, Bobrow wrote in an article she co-authored with other members of the SC's Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup that was published in CIC's CMP Today magazine last November. There have been seismic shifts not only in telecommunications and personal technology, but in expectations about Internet speed and access and ways of extending meetings via webcasting, streaming video, and more.

The rate of change has been so great, in fact, that the SC decided to scrap the forms — which soon would be out of date — and to instead create a list of basic questions about bandwidth that planners should ask in order to effectively discuss event technology. (That approach — replacing forms with strategic questions — is being used throughout the RFP workbook.)

The committee is adding an event-technology section to the workbook for the first time, Bobrow said in an interview with Convene, but meanwhile, in an effort to build industry knowledge, workgroup members are sharing a list of questions that is a work in progress.

“You don't have to get into the nitty-gritty and become a technology expert,” said Bobrow, who counts herself among those whose eyes once glazed over during technical discussions. “But it makes my budgeting a lot easier now that I am comfortable that I know the right questions to ask. I have enough knowledge to even the playing field in a negotiation.”

The following is adapted from the CMP Today article, “Strike Up the Bandwidth":

What is attendee demand? In addition to knowing the number of attendees, meeting planners need to know their audience in order to accurately predict their Internet needs, Bobrow said. Are attendees happy just to surf the Web and answer email? Or will they blog, tweet, and stream video during your meeting? Will they want to connect back to their offices through corporate networks or VPN?

Planners also need to estimate how many devices attendees will want to be connected with at the meeting. It used to be assumed that each attendee would have one device or fewer; now one attendee might bring a smartphone, a laptop, and an iPad. For its 2013 Education Conference in Denver next month, PCMA included a field in its registration form that asked attendees in advance how many devices they planned to bring. “That's the first time I've seen that,” Bobrow said.

Being able to look back at a meeting's history of Internet usage is also invaluable for predicting future usage, Bobrow added, and the meeting's Internet provider should be able to share that information. The SC also has created an online tool to help meeting planners estimate bandwidth.

What do presenters require? Will presenters and facilitators stream video clips or be conducting hands-on training using digital applications? Do they plan to collaborate remotely with individuals or groups?

What bandwidth does your conference app require? Some apps store schedules and other information in an app itself, while others load it from the Internet each time they're accessed. You should also know whether your meeting app uses photo or video uploading, or includes games with check-ins or social-media interactions. App developers should be able to tell you the bandwidth that is required.

What is the difference between shared and dedicated bandwidth? Shared bandwidth refers to a finite amount of bandwidth, shared among any number of users — potentially including users at different events at the same venue. The more users, the less bandwidth available to each individual attendee.

Dedicated bandwidth is guaranteed to be available exclusively for a particular use, such as hybrid-meeting activities, meeting operations, or presentations. The last thing a planner wants, said John Rissi, vice president of operations for PSAV Presentation Services and chair of the Bandwidth and Connectivity Workgroup, is to order Internet for a meeting room and have a presenter not be able to access a presentation because everyone else in the room is sucking up all the bandwidth.

When is shared bandwidth a bad idea? As a best practice, attendee bandwidth and Internet access should be kept separate from the network used for operations such as registration, presenter systems, hybrid-meeting activities, file servers, and staff networks.

What is going on in the exhibit hall? Radio signals from private networks set up by exhibitors can interfere with one another, and also can interfere with the network you provide for your attendees. Planners should know what kinds of networks exhibitors are planning, and talk with their service providers about the potential for problems.

Are you are getting what you pay for? Verification sites, including speedtest.net and speakeasy.net/speedtest, provide an easy-to-use, basic way to check that the speed of the Internet access you're getting is what you agreed to. The sites don't always give definitive results, but are useful as rough estimates of download speed.

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