Wi-Fi has been a critical issue for events for many years—a fast, free connection is an expectation of attendees who rely on it to keep up with email, share on social media, and access apps. But in the past year, guests at all sorts of events have started using their phones and tablets for something else: live video. Thanks to products such as Facebook Live, Periscope, and YouTube, anyone with a Wi-Fi connection can easily and instantly broadcast an event via video. Planners may want to encourage this sharing—it’s free marketing—but that means taking steps to ensure the Wi-Fi can handle the added load.
“You may have in-the-venue Wi-Fi, so people can get email and do Web surfing and that sort of thing. But if you are going to try to do streaming with Wi-Fi, I would say in general that’s not possible in most venues because there’s too many people logging in, logging out, and the bandwidth is being shared by all the users,” says Russ Hamm, president of Rainbow Broadband.
Rainbow Broadband provides Wi-Fi networks for venues and events for brands such as Google, Twitter, Samsung, N.B.A., N.F.L., and Discovery. In October, Rainbow Broadband created the network for the inaugural LiveFronts, an invitation-only event presented by Roker Media and Brave Media Ventures at the Eventi hotel in New York. The event showcased live-streaming opportunities available for marketers and content producers.
“For the Roker Media event, we put in more Wi-Fi access points, about 40 percent more, than we would normally if it was just going to be attendees doing email or Web surfing,” Hamm says. Those additional access points boost the network to accommodate live-streaming. “This is megabits of data. Email you can get away with kilobits of data. It’s slow, it’s not time dependent. But as soon as you go to do video you are talking about megabits of data and it’s very time sensitive. You don’t want the signal to drop out and come back, or worse, it freezes.”
If planners expect their attendees will want to stream video, Hamm suggests they discuss this with the venue’s technology provider in the early stages of planning. In general, the system should have one to two megabits of bandwidth for each person who will be streaming. “If you have 500 people at the event, they won’t all be streaming, but let’s say 10 percent of them are. That’s 50 streams—that’s already 50 to 100 megabits of bandwidth. And it would need to be symmetrical—meaning the speed up is the same as the speed down. There aren’t too many facilities that have that kind of bandwidth,” Hamm says.
Planners may also want to ask for separate network sectors to accommodate unique Wi-Fi needs at the event. For the LiveFronts, Rainbow Broadband created three sectors: one for the people producing the event to handle registration and other logistical operations; one for the presenters; and one for the attendees, knowing many would be streaming the sessions.
In public facilities such as hotels and convention centers, Hamm says the network should require a password to ensure outsiders don’t cause problems by downloading videos and other large files if they discover the large capacity of the network. As phones and tablets become more advanced, Hamm predicts streaming and other activities will require even more bandwidth.
“Devices are getting much faster, and there’s more coming,“ he says. “When we went from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6, the camera quality increased by four times. You went from standard definition to 4K definition. And that increased the bandwidth by about four times. It’s a whole different world than just email and Web surfing.”