A growing expectation at conferences for wireless connectivity should be neglected at your peril, explains Arinex general manager and executive manager – technology, Daniel Branik.

If you haven’t noticed, wireless is a hot topic at the majority of today’s conferences, and particularly international meetings.

Today’s conference delegate expects to be able to easily check their emails, chat to family, update their device when required, and network with other delegates. Adding to the expectations are meeting planners who have a growing desire for their delegates to be “switched on” and committed to the conference by being able to register, vote, comment and contribute in real time on their device to speakers and organisers throughout the event.

Delegates today are generally more savvy at being able to connect their device to the wireless network the planner or venue has created for the meeting but that does not mean that it will be all plain sailing unless the system has been configured to allow for ease-of-use, is fast enough to enable delegates to do what they expect and are asked to do, and includes enough capacity for the number of conference delegates.

Online registrations, using conference apps, viewing video of sessions, and the fast-growing popularity of cloud computer programs are all impacting the delegate experience and all need to be considered prior to the start of any meeting today.

On top of that are the general requirements delegates have with their devices. Many have settings on their devices set to automatically update any programs they are using and as soon as a notification is sent to their device they feel compelled to update that program. In some instances this could mean a 2GB download that you as the meeting planner, and your venue operator, is going to have to cope with and pay for. Multiply that by 1000 delegates over a three day period and it is not hard to see why problems can occur.

In my experience there is either not enough time spent in the planning stages, not enough information provided, or the infrastructure is not capable or configured to handle the required volume. This could be due to capacity issue or prohibitive costs.

Exhibitions are a common example where wireless does not handle the volume of devices and provides unsatisfactory experience. There are various ways to configure wireless in an exhibition hall and it can be difficult to achieve a seamless delegate experience.

The common practice with many venues is to put the wireless points up high which is said to allow for a better range. Problems can occur, however, when a delegate is walking around the exhibition on their device. The further they get away from the connected access point the weaker the signal is, but not weak enough for the device to move to the next access point. This can therefore result in degradation of their connection. Access points tend to be turned right up so they are “shouting” and competing against each other.

An alternate configuration is to have the wireless points down lower with the signal reduced and have more devices that cross over one another to retain good connectivity without degradation of signal.

Another challenge can be where delegates are asked to vote on their own devices or are asked by the speaker to send them a question from their device during the speaker’s presentation. In a plenary session where they may be 1000 delegates or more the ability to achieve this almost instantaneously is imperative, particularly if the speaker has a short period of time for their presentation. The success comes down to the capacity and configuration of the wireless network, specifically for a multitude of concurrent users and whether it was understood prior to the commencement of the meeting.

It really is too late to make major technical changes just hours before the event begins.

The meeting planner also has to know what it is they need for their event, and they have to be able to communicate that to the venue. If a meeting planner decides within hours of the start of the conference that they want to record some sessions and stream them online then they can hardly expect the venue operator to be able to achieve this seamlessly without prior warning.

Meeting planners have to know the right questions to ask venue operators when it comes to digital infrastructure to match their own and the delegate requirements with the solution.

Only then can their delegates – their clients – have a seamless conference experience.