Conference attendees are consuming increasingly large amounts of data, bogging down networks at meeting venues. Luckily, some U.S. destinations are about to offer them faster connection speeds. AT&T announced plans to continue the its 5G Evolution in Austin and Indianapolis, and Verizon followed up with its own announcement to test its 5G network with certain customers in 11 cities, including convention hubs like Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
When attendees are broadcasting their perspectives on Facebook Live or streaming entire seasons of their favorite Netflix shows in those cities on their mobile devices, they can expect peak speeds of 400 megabits per second — 40 times faster than today’s typical cellular connections. And those speeds are just the tip of the connectivity iceberg. When the 5G evolution is fully realized, attendees will enjoy lighting fast wireless.
It’s one of the future trends that will shape events, according to a recent report released by IAEE, written by Francis J. Friedman, president of Time & Place Strategies. “Speeds will be 300–500 percent faster than current 4G capabilities,” he wrote, “and 5G will also have the capability to deliver higher quality picture and sound as well as virtual reality to the handset.”
As more meetings and events use VR to shape the attendee experience, AT&T’s and Verizon’s tests put a few cities in a unique position. “At this point, 5G is still a fairly nebulous concept in terms of what the next generation of wireless will actually deliver beyond ultra-fast data speeds,” Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy, told PCMA via email. “But that said, Indy will certainly be communicating to customers that they will have an opportunity to test cutting-edge technology concepts in the meetings, conventions, and business-events industry when they meet here, which, at least in the short to mid-term, is not something many cities will be able to say.”
Hoops said that he expects the sponsors and exhibitors at GenCon, North America’s largest gaming convention that takes over Indianapolis each August, will look forward to taking advantage of 5G’s possibilities. But 5G has the potential to benefit all kinds of events — not just those with high-tech roots. “Certainly every organization will want to explore how the latest generation of wireless technology can help them differentiate their business events,” he said, “by delivering a cutting-edge attendee experience that couldn’t be delivered in a city without 5G coverage.”
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The IAEE report points to a major potential perk for meeting professionals. “One of the benefits of 5G technology reported for the [exhibition and conference] industry is that it can penetrate the walls of convention centers and deliver full wireless service without having to wire the convention center,” Friedman wrote. “If this proves to be effective, attendee wireless service will significantly increase while reducing show organizer budgets for providing in-hall wireless connectivity.”
However, Matt Harvey, vice president of client network services at PSAV, told PCMA that “it’s hard to make predictions about performance inside buildings,” because there are no standards for 5G yet. He said that convention venues will have to invest in costly distributed antenna systems in order for cellular data to perform at the super-fast advertised speeds of 5G.
“The big question around 5G,” Harvey said, “is this: Will the supply of bandwidth over cellular finally exceed demand and reduce the need for Wi-Fi, or will the events industry continue to dream up new ways to use connectivity to enhance meetings and drive ever-increasing need for additional capacity? My money is on the latter.”
It will take some time to determine the answer. Harvey estimates that we won’t see wide-scale adoption of 5G for at least another three years. So, for now, meeting professionals need to make sure venues can accommodate their connectivity needs. Check out “6 Tips for Getting the Wi-Fi You Need” for helpful advice.