Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 01 2013

5 Reasons Why Free Wi-Fi Might Not Be the Best Deal

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

meeting wifiAs meeting attendees arrive on-site, they’re immediately searching for one thing: an Internet signal. According to the 2012 Hotels.com Amenities Survey, more than half of all travelers indicated that free Wi-Fi was their number one-must have on business trips.

There’s just one problem. It’s not that easy, particularly when it comes to large groups. While you may want your next contract to include free Wi-Fi, here are five reasons why it’s worth it to pay.

1) Size Matters

Your meeting attendees may be accustomed to getting free Wi-Fi at their local cafes, but your meeting is another story. If you’re looking to ensure optimal connectivity for thousands of attendees, it’s going to take much more than a router and a small amount of shared bandwidth.

“Unlike your Starbucks down the street with limited bandwidth, our bandwidth has to be very large to accommodate all our guests and meeting attendees,” Bill Lemmon, Director of Sales, Omni Hotels & Resorts Chicago, says.

SEE ALSO: Working Smarter, Banding Together

2) Your Attendees Want to Use All Their Devices

The number of your attendees isn’t the only factor that impacts your bandwidth needs, either. It’s also important to recognize the number of devices that each of them brings to the meeting. Michael Doyle, Principal, Michael Doyle Partners, says that connectivity habits have shifted to turn many participants into multiple-device meeting attendees.

“The density of the devices is crucial to consider,” Doyle says. “With mobile phones, tablets and laptops, each attendee may represent a much bigger piece of your network.”

3)  Engagement Relies on Your Signal

Those attendees aren’t just using those devices for their personal needs, either. Many planners are counting on them for engagement. For example, those who attended Convening Leaders 2013 had the chance to weigh in on questions via Poll Everywhere technology. Doyle says it’s important to recognize that this kind of tool is ideal for getting attendees involved, but it only functions with the right support.

“As more planners adopt similar strategies for engagement, it’s essential to have enough bandwidth to ensure that those services will actually work,” Doyle says.

SEE ALSO: How to Engage 2,500 Attendees

4) Your Presenters Need A Signal They Can Count On

Ever wonder why some 2.5-star properties offer free Wi-Fi while some 4-star luxury brands do not? It’s because the premium-level property is providing premium-level service.

“A limited service hotel may offer complimentary Internet, but there’s going to be a limit to the bandwidth,” Lemmon says.

When that bandwidth is limited, meeting planners can run into plenty of problems. Lemmon says that limited-service properties will place caps on bandwidth, and those caps can create serious challenges.

“When you’re in a meeting room, you want consistency,” Lemmon says. “If you have a group of clients that you’re showing a presentation, you want to make sure that there’s no lag time in your connection and your browser doesn’t time out. In a business environment, it’s just not acceptable.”

5) You Want the Latest and Greatest Tools

As technology continues to evolve, your meeting team will want to take advantage of the newest bells and whistles, just as PCMA did when they remote broadcasted Jane McGonigal into their 2012 Convening Leaders general session.

“There’s a common misconception that technology is a one-time investment,” Lemmon says. “However, we’re constantly evaluating what we need to do to stay competitive, and there are quite a few costs that come with that approach.”

“It’s not just the bandwidth,” Doyle says. “It’s the whole networking infrastructure, the staff, the hardware, the devices and the backup devices to ensure everything is working. There are a lot of costs that go into connectivity.”

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