As the cashless generation comes to expect free Wi-Fi, Access examines its pitfalls.
“Regardless of event size or location, one of the first things customers check for is free Wi-Fi,” says Dominic Hampton, managing director, Attend 2 IT.
Once considered a luxury, the modern demand for social media, and events’ reliance on it for presentations has rendered it vital.
Hampton continues: “But it’s not just for status updates. We are fast becoming a cashless generation favouring and expecting electronic transactions at bars, food traders etc, and therefore a vital part of an event’s revenue is more and more dependent on PDQ and contactless transactions all requiring a stable internet connection.”
Pylon One’s sales and marketing director Mike Lang adds: “It is no longer acceptable to call up and say: ‘The stand, event or stall was rammed yesterday, we were busy all day, you couldn’t move’. Now, and quite rightly, the corporate client/brand need to know how many people came, what were the popular areas, were the quiet areas, what times were the busiest, what worked and what didn’t. Wi-Fi is vital for the measurement of these metrics.
“Footfall analytics gives us these metrics and indeed far more. In partnership with US based company Kloudspot, Pylon One can provide these answers.”
Hampton adds that event apps are fast becoming an expected technology to accompany an event, and Wi-Fi once again comes into its own. “Available to download and engage visitors for months prior, it gives organisers the tools to market acts, exhibitors to allow visitors to plan, network and navigate the event with ease.”
But, with 5G on the horizon, how will this change the game? “Being one of the first few companies to work with 5G we were aware of how highly it was anticipated, faster downloads and more data is every organiser’s dream,” says Hamton. “Imagine attending a festival with at least 5,000 other people downloading and uploading more than ever before, except so is everyone else. Users will run into the issues we currently have with 4G. 5G is just increasing our thirst for data meaning event Wi-Fi providers will still be required.
“We all know the annoyance of lack of phone signal, we can be out in the most obscure locations and still expect to be able to contact the outside world (cue frantically waving your phone in the air and cursing). Today’s reality is that we expect instant connections anywhere and anytime. Now try applying this to the event Wi-Fi industry where you have a multitude of customers and exhibitors all expecting a strong instant connection at the same time. Half an hour lack of access can cause a tyrant of abuse over social media and a wave of hysteria from angry exhibitors and of course loss of revenue. #WIFIFAIL.
“Looking at some of our previous events 100% of event revenue has gone through our internet connections. We understand what’s at stake, which is why it must be taken seriously.”
Lang adds: “DemoGraphics gives us these metrics and indeed far more. DemoGraphics has been developed in-house and uses industry standard facial recognition software but is held together by unique algorithms developed and owned by Pylon One. The events industry is clamouring to know how visitors move around an event/area/venue, their patterns of behaviour, how and where they engage and whether messages had the desired impact.”
But does Wi-Fi have to come at such a cost? Hampton says: “There is a common misconception that event Wi-Fi is expensive, it’s not. It’s more that Wi-Fi at home is incredibly cheap. Unfortunately, there are also venues with poor systems that will overcharge. In a lot of cases Wi-Fi is built to the most common use of the venue, 200 people seated for dinner will not have the same needs that a 500 person strong tech conference, we know that venues can’t spend that investment on once or twice a year bookings which is why we are there to fill the void.
“With today’s utilisation of social media it’s feasible to say that without the access of Wi-Fi an event could not work. Wi-Fi could take a small event global in a matter of minutes but that comes with a cost.”
“Just ten years ago event Wi-Fi simply didn’t exist, both the technology and the requirement wasn’t there. now we have cloud-based office services meaning organisers can’t access documents unless there’s an internet connection. Visitors don’t carry wads of cash anymore and thus expect to pay electronically for entrance tickets as well as for products, services and merchandise onsite.
“Event Wi-Fi is one of the most important services to the events industry today up there along with power and structures. as most if not all the revenue that pays for the events transits through it. There’s no such thing as free Wi-Fi, you may have free Wi-Fi but somewhere somebody is paying for it.”
As well as the obvious benefits, event Wi-Fi can also expose how unsecure visitors’ data potentially is, according to the CEO of event technology supplier Eventscase. Jose Bort’s company has released a White Paper on data security, available for download, which aims to highlight the risk event professionals face from being hacked.
A hacker is able to access a device in less than a minute, and once inside can wreak havoc with data, applications, and files. Users are urged to ensure when they are using a website, that they check the certification, by clicking on the padlock symbol to the left of the web address in the search bar.
Bort says: “Event professionals, as well as everyone, maybe do not realise the risk. A lot of us are unaware of how unsecure we are online. It’s not to scare anyone, and this threat is certainly nothing new. People will learn some basic things, which affect not only us, but our delegates and our events. Included is a checklist, which event professionals should absorb and talk through with their suppliers to assess their current risk.”
Since GDPR legislation came into force in 2018, the need to secure data has never been more urgent. Companies can face fines of up to £20m in the result of a data breach. “The organiser [data owner] is ultimately responsible,” Bort adds. “But the duty is shared between them, the venue, and the event technology supplier. Everyone must be clear on their role.”
So Wi-Fi is getting cheaper, but people are asking more of it, and developers are only adding to this demand. And, as Bort makes clear, security is also paramount. Something to consider next time you call up your usual supplier.