An Event Organiser’s Guide To The Internet

Richard Dix, Rural Broadband


As the outdoor events season quietens down a bit and focus moves to planning for 2014, we thought it would be useful to list out some of the trends we have seen during 2013 which can help with 2014 planning when it comes to IT and communications at events. Although focused on outdoor events most of the topics below apply equally to indoor events too.

1. Try to Plan and Book early – It’s vital to start considering the aspects of internet and service connectivity early on in the event planning process.

Communication between the connectivity provider and the event planner is vital to ensure that the most efficient use of equipment is made according to the site layout and the correct equipment is provided. Advanced planning will provide a detailed scheme of what is required. Specifying just what you need to complete your installation in the most cost effective way.

Strong relationships between staff at the connectivity provider and the event team are essential for the understanding and delivery of services that meet the clients’ needs and expectations. The more time you spend with the computer and internet people before the event, discussing your requirements, the less time you will need to spend with them at the event. You’ll be able to get on with your work knowing that the IT side is taken care of.

2. Robust and Guaranteed Service – Slow internet speeds can be just as frustrating as not having any access at all. Any system should be robust enough to handle the load as estimated through the planning process, with capacity of speed and data volume to spare.

As well as being robust, the networks should also have a redundant backup and appropriate equipment to enable a seamless fall-back if problems occur with the main provision.

Satellite broadband can provide download speeds of up to 20Mbps. We think that two satellite dishes are better than one, which is why you’ll never see a single, lonely satellite dish at any of our event installations. If the first dish stops working, the second will quietly take over.

We still don’t think that’s enough to guarantee highest availability internet access, so we install high powered specialist mobile broadband equipment or a different satellite system for Plan C.

Vulnerable cable runs, where they cannot be avoided, should be facilitated in pairs, providing a redundant backup if the primary cable fails.

Ensure that whatever solution you choose, you know that you have a Plan B and even a Plan C.

3. PDQ / Payment Systems – Recently we have seen a significant rise in the number of events reporting problems with GPRS (mobile phone) PDQ machines – these are the credit/debit card machines used for merchandise, box offices, vendors etc.

The problem stems from the fact that at events the mobile networks (Vodafone, O2, Orange, etc) cannot handle the amount of data that users are trying to pull over the network, and with all the network congestion the PDQ machines cannot process transactions.

The problem is getting worse because of the increase in smartphones, with users downloading more data and a reluctance by operators to put in temporary masts due to their high cost.

However it is important to note that just because a temporary mast is installed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that data services will be any better as most temporary masts are more for the benefit of voice calls.

The alternative to GPRS style PDQs are Wi-Fi PDQs – exactly the same machines but using a Wi-Fi network instead. These require a Wi-Fi network and a reliable internet connection to be in place and it means the network is fully controlled and transactions on the machines are much faster. There are options to rent Wi-Fi PDQs but 2-3 weeks notice is required as the machines have to be configured with the relevant banking merchant id of you or your concession operators.

4. VPN for Ticketing Systems - VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are a method for creating a secure connection between two locations such as an event site and a central database head office or in a data centre. They are often used by ticketing and stock systems, which are increasingly being used at event sites. These can operate by Wi-Fi or over a network cable.

There are two things to watch for:
1) VPNs require good network connectivity, especially upload, which satellite and 3G provide very well.
2) VPNs often require special firewall configuration, particularly if multiple VPNs are to be used. Different wireless networks and frequencies as well as segmented wired networks are deployed by us in this situation.

Advanced planning and testing should be done to confirm that everything will operate normally at the event.

5. Wireless Management – The use of wireless equipment on event sites continues to grow at a pace – general Wi-Fi, CCTV, ticket scanning, sound systems, audio and video links, etc. all make use of wireless solutions, many of which operate in the same frequency range. Without proper configuration these different networks may not operate harmoniously. Reliable operation can only be achieved if everyone works together and early communication and coordination is key to ensure there is no interference.

Providers should be ensuring they are involved in planning at an early stage to enable smooth running.

6. Smartphone Hunting - The rapid increase in smartphone devices with Wi-Fi creates new challenges for onsite networks, even when the event network is not intended for public access

The issue is that smartphones will continually ‘hunt’ for Wi-Fi networks and when they find one they will try to connect. This creates a small load on the network whilst they negotiate a connection. The attempt to connect will not succeed, however the combined load of many devices attempting to connect can impact network performance and the user’s experience.

The solution involves using wireless equipment designed for larger loads coupled with proper network management as low end Wi-Fi routers are not designed to deal with large numbers of users.

7. VOIP Phones - Having five bars of service on your mobile phone whilst remaining unable to place a call is becoming more frequent.

Radios are excellent for quick communications on a site and for locating team members. However, for more extended conversations, which can often take place during the set-up of an event, a temporary phone system allows conversations to take place without the need to physically meet. The use of VoIP phones at events is now commonplace and demand is growing as more people become frustrated with mobile networks at events. Conference calls become achievable, allowing several team members to join the call.

8. Smartphone Apps - More and more events are now commissioning their own apps for use at events however few events are considering the full picture which is critical for success. Most of these applications (certainly the more useful ones) require connectivity at the event to get updates. Typically the mobile networks struggle with demand at events and so the user gets a poor experience and rates the app badly. Many users also turn up at the event expecting to download the app which creates further (significant) demand. One way around this is to provide a locally controlled Wi-Fi network for use by the app. Developing a useful app that will be widely used and appreciated requires early planning to best understand the layout of the site and event.

9. Public Wi-Fi Access - The increase in smartphones coupled with the massive expansion of publicly available Wi-Fi leads to more and more expectation that events will have Wi-Fi access. The costs of expanding an existing network been provided for production onsite is small when compared to the original set up costs. This public Wi-Fi network offers new avenues for sponsorship, advertising and rich content delivery.

10. On-site engineers – When designed properly from the outset, Systems should run smoothly, however unforeseen events do occasionally happen. An engineer on-site during an event will be able to respond immediately to any surprises or last minute additions.

11. Multiple Sites – Linking dispersed areas together, eg tents, access gates, car parks, overflow areas, especially if production office is away from the site itself. Outdoor events can be spread across a wide area involving multiple sites, such as car parks VIP gate areas, public seating and production.

12. Last Minute Additions/Emergencies – Connectivity providers should have the ability to respond to sudden changes, last minute arrivals and changing conditions etc. With an onsite engineer and spare equipment factored in to the estimate, a quick response is not only guaranteed but built in to the price. With so many suppliers, retailers, etc arriving just in time for the event start, you will be sure everyone has what they need to serve attendees and ticket holders.

13. Security and Accommodation of Equipment – IT staff, like us, are notoriously protective of their equipment and having a comfortable and secure environment to store their equipment and serve as an office. To protect equipment worth many thousands of pounds and to keep a happy technical team, ensure you have a separate, lockable office or Portacabin that they can shut themselves away in.

14. Treat the IT Team As Colleagues – If you choose to have on-site engineers then they’ll be working the same long hours in the same conditions as you. They always appreciate being addressed by their names, instead of “Oy, you!” and need as much coffee and food as everyone else. So don’t forget to put your connectivity providers on the list for the catering truck.

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