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Wi-Fi Wars Continue

As wireless devices become ubiquitous, hotels are facing more demands on their Wi-Fi infrastructure during meetings.

“It’s a matter of allowing the planner and the attendees to use their technology the same way they would be able to at work or home,” says a meetings technology educator and conference speaker.

‘The connectivity issue within hotels is a huge hot-button right now – not only the cost of it, but the actual speed that a planner is getting and what they’re able to provide for their attendees – it is so inconsistent from property to property.”

The hotel companies know that. “From a global brand standpoint, technology is one of the four pillars that we are focusing on,” says Rodahl Leong-Lyons, vice president of sales, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

“When we consider our portfolio worldwide and the different nuances of how technology generally, and Wi-Fi and Internet access specifically, works in each of our hotels in each country, in each city, getting that all under one system or a handful of systems is a big challenge that we need to address from an infrastructure standpoint.”

Many hotel properties have made significant upgrades to increase their server capacity, which includes both the bandwidth and the number of devices that its facilities can handle.

“Secure wireless needs to be available. A lot of hotels today have very open Wi-Fi systems which anyone can get on to.

If you have a meeting in a particular meeting room which may sit next to three other meeting rooms, the hotels need to ensure that the wireless system is secure. Even though it may be free (or not free), we need to be able to secure it.” says Barry Goldstein, chief revenue officer for the international Dolce Hotels & Resorts chain.

Looking further afield to Las Vegas, where MGM Resorts International has made a $14-million investment in a custom Cisco Wi-Fi network for all of its properties, starting with the Bellagio Las Vegas, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, and Mandalay Bay Las Vegas, says Michael Dominguez, the company’s senior vice president of corporate hotel sales.

The system, which is two to four times as fast as the standard hotel Wi-Fi, should be in place in all of the company’s hotels on The Strip by the end of next year. The new Wi-Fi system gives MGM Resorts the ability to support 120,000 concurrent users in Las Vegas. 

Take note for futuristic meetings as we are now a digital society – attendees will want to be able to shape their experience, and that requires cloud technology. Attendees will want to communicate with each other, to communicate with the speaker, to ask questions, download white papers, take surveys, and create one-on-one appointments.

If they can’t constantly connect, especially if they are younger, they’re not going to come to your conference.

The lifeblood of our digital society is the Internet, particularly Wi-Fi wireless connectivity. We are quickly reaching the point where that connectivity is going to be as necessary to a meeting as the meeting room itself.

It’s not just social media that uses up bandwidth these days. Events are incorporating streaming video into everything from presentations to training sessions, and using instant polling apps to involve audiences in presentations as they are happening.

All this social media is not just extraneous chatter, but part of a content delivery strategy to get participants involved in and excited about events. And that is putting a lot more pressure on hotels and other venues that want to host meetings.

Consider the hotelier’s perspective on bandwidth

Planners should not count on, or expect, the hotel to know what the group’s technological needs will be. The event organiser should know this information about their meeting and bring it to the table when negotiating with a hotel or resort.

Ask yourself two questions: What are your attendees most likely to use? And what will best benefit the format of your conference? Start from there.

Seek Professional Advice

Before the site selection process begins, planners should consult with their company’s IT department, or hire a consultant or contractor to handle the technology.

Conduct an audit of your attendees’ Internet-access needs

First and foremost, plan on attendees — particularly younger and more tech-savvy ones — having a laptop, tablet computer, and a smartphone or possibly two, and using them all.

One result of attendees using multiple devices, is that networks that used to work fine just a few years ago are slowing down and having problems. Start with how many users there are and then what they are going to be running, and what applications.

Conduct an audit of the event’s Internet access needs

Begin with all the Tweeting, Facebooking, and YouTubeing attendees and then add streaming video of the event’s content to the equation. This social media is by far the most bandwidth-intensive activity in any meeting.

How much of it there is can depend on the client, or the industry. High-tech firms tend to use a lot of bandwidth, but they aren’t the only companies.

Include a bandwidth assessment during site inspections 

It is important to remember that “wireless is not wireless, it is coming in from somewhere.”

For technology-intensive groups, planners should look for facilities with “multiple sources of high-speed Internet access.”  The hotel has to be wired internally, so it can be distributed, whether on a local area network or a wired connection to the meeting room.

That means looking for a fiber optic Internet connection that goes all the way to the meeting room.

How many connections are available?

Another thing to remember is that bandwidth is only one of two key chokepoints when it comes to connectivity. The other is the availability of access points. 

“One of the issues that some facilities are dealing with isn’t that they can’t provide bandwidth, it is that they can’t accommodate the number of devices that are coming into the room, especially if people come in with one, two, maybe even three or four Internet-connected devices that go after that Web as soon as they walk into that space,” says Spellos of Meetings U. 

The routers that Wi-Fi devices connect to in order to get on the Internet can handle a specific number of devices, and once they are maxed out, a new device can only get on when another one goes offline — say if someone leaves the room and goes beyond that router’s reach. 

Make connectivity part of the contract negotiations

There are several reasons to make your connectivity needs part of the contract negotiations with a venue rather than leaving it for later, begin with making sure the venue has the access you need. 

Even for properties where the technical requirements will not be a problem at least have a general discussion at the time of contracting so there are no surprises about cost. But remember, last minute changes are not only more difficult, they are more expensive.

Source : Leo Jakobson :  http://www.successfulmeetings.com

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