I have blogged about wifi before: it’s as essential to tech events as water is to survival. Without it, they don’t work and you run the risk of the worst hashtag of all – #wififail – being tagged to your event (I have nightmares about this!).
It’s a myth that conferences always have bad wifi, though. When it happens, it’s often down to a poor choice of venue, poor preparation or penny-pinching by the event organisers.
So – what can you do to ensure that you get the wifi your event needs and deserves?
Check the speed and number of connections
Make sure you do more than just ask about wifi – it’s critical that you check it out personally, too. I’ve been told many times on the phone that a venue has ‘great wifi’ when, in reality, all it has is wifi that doesn’t register above 0.5mb (essentially non-existent).
To check the wifi is good enough, think about what is your event’s minimum requirement. Personally, I always look for a minimum of 50mb download speed and 20-30mb upload. The capacity for at least 2 connections per participant (ideally 3) is important: this allows people to log on with their phone, plus laptop and possibly smartwatch or tablet.
Once you’ve figured out your minimum requirement – go to the venue and check, check, check. Use a wifi speed tester. I use the Ookla speed test, which is free. With this there is nowhere for bad wifi to hide – as long as you check correctly.
In each room, run at least 3-4 tests at the front, in the middle and at the back corner. You want to ensure there are no black spots – and if there are, ask the venue to deal with them. Don’t forget to speedtest the toilets too, and make sure the wifi works outside in case of a beautiful sunny day!
Finally, think about any extra wifi needs you may have, eg for hands-on sessions or cloud conferences – check with speakers beforehand as this will help your planning.
Make sure the wifi is easy to use
Once you’ve confirmed that the wifi is up to scratch, you’ll need your participants to access it easily. The best option is for there to be no passcode – users can get straight onto the network, which has ideally been renamed for your event. Easy peasy – if all venues understood this, life would be perfect! However, life is not always perfect. Many venues appear to have unfounded security concerns – they make wifi access deeply complicated and give daily limits on data uploads. Or even worse – their systems are just massively out of date.
As a rule of thumb, I would reject venues that have any of these wifi barriers in place:
- passcodes longer than 8 characters – or even worse, individual passcodes
- daily data limits – these are out of touch and not a realistic option in 2016
- different networks for speakers, participants and organisers: we are one event and it’s not acceptable for some people to have better wifi than others
What to do during the event
You’ve checked the wifi beforehand and you know it’s up to scratch. To make sure everything runs smoothly during your event, make sure you:
- display wifi details prominently throughout the venue and in participant booklets
- check wifi periodically throughout the event
- have someone on hand to help people connect
- keep an eye on Twitter for any wifi problems
- ask the venue for traffic data during and after the event – this helps you plan for future events
I think that between us as event organisers, we can create a better world of wifi. Make sure you look for the venues that are able to offer you the best wifi service and don’t book anything less. Above all, try and educate venues – many are happy to invest when they understand what’s needed. In order to create the great events we need great wi-fi, so lets make that happen!