Poor Wi-Fi at Your Event? Use These Tips for Correct Setup

Poor Wi-fi can break an event. Even when event planners do great planning in all other spheres, we’ve seen bad Wi-fi spoil the fun. The truth is event planners can no longer overlook the reliability of their Wi-fi. It is not enough to take your venue’s promise of access at face value and to assume that your attendees’ wireless providers will pick up the slack (not to mention how happy your foreign attendees will be about their roaming charges).

In fact, as professionals are sharing more and more online, there is huge potential for great ROI for events by investing in high quality Wi-fi. Keep this in mind: for attendees to engage and share at your event, particularly if you are using an event app, they will need their tech, and those tools require good, fast, reliable Internet connection. Here’s how you can guarantee that your event is properly connected.


1. Check your audience size. Think about what attendees will be using the Internet for.

An event for a couple hundred has extremely different connectivity needs than an event with thousands of attendees. The larger the audience, the more routers, more bandwidth, and perhaps more engineers you will need to help connect everything properly.

When making initial connectivity estimates, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How will attendees use the internet? Will they be simply browsing or will they be uploading and downloading images and videos?
  2. How many devices are your attendees likely to use? For events where attendees will likely be working, one approach is to use the expected number of attendees and assume a certain number (often 0.5-2) of devices per attendee.

For planning wireless mapping, access points, and routers, here is some basic information for your consideration:

a) The number of routers will depend on the area of your event and the number of clients served at any access point. But, it is valuable to note that network professionals generally plan that a wireless signal will cover 100 to 150 feet if unobstructed. To this end, the Meraki Cloud Controller will help you in planning as it shows a real-time view of the network’s performance .

b) Additionally, it is good to plan for an average of 50 active clients on a given access point (AP) at any time.

c) To ensure adequate servicing, disable any pre-existing APs that could interfere with your network. The necessary amount of bandwidth will depend on the amount of data that will the used on the network.

2. Don’t forget about bandwidth needs.

Firstly you need to calculate the bandwidth needs and enable bandwidth limits.

To understand your needs check out the calculator from the Accepted Practices Exchange that will give estimates of your bandwidth needs according to usage, audience number, and number of devices. Unfortunately, the calculator only provides estimates for audiences up to 1,000 people. For larger audiences, you should consider hiring a professional engineer to help plan appropriately.

To enable bandwidth limits this is probably the single most important consideration. If bandwidth limits are not enabled, a small number of clients can quickly saturate a channel. For most events, a per-client limit of 100-200 kbit/s is appropriate, and this will provide a snappy web browsing experience, reasonably fast email, and usable video.

Higher limits (1-2 Mbit/s) will, of course, enable higher-bandwidth applications. However, this will require that there is enough local and wide area bandwidth available to support all users at this limit.

3. Map out where attendees will need the Internet in your venue.

Wi-fi connectivity and necessary infrastructure will vary wildly depending on location. Running an outdoor event has certain Wi-fi needs that won’t necessarily matter in an indoor environment. InformationWeek has a great article outlining needs of an outdoor event. For indoor events, some of the same basic principles apply. It’s critical that you consider where your attendees will be “checking in” to the Wi-fi network in order to prevent “dead spots.”

Name the APs and place them on the map appropriately. If there are multiple buildings or floors, it’s useful to combine the floor plans in one single image, so you can see all the APs from a single view, instead of loading separate images for each floor or location. When using a cutting-edge, wireless mesh network, the network will decide the best mesh route based partially on the locations of APs on the map. Even if you are not using mesh links, placing them on the map will help you if you need to troubleshoot issues during the event.

Finally, as always, it pays to plan ahead. Comparing Wi-fi service providers early gives you time to negotiate and get the best deal. It also allows you to make Wi-fi connectivity an important (if not central) piece of your event strategy.

Bonus:

1. Additional Tools
Wi-fi planning tool

2. Network Specialist (list of service providers by region)
New York City, New York
Orlando, Florida
Chicago, Illinois
Las Vegas, Nevada
Los Angeles, California

3. A network guide for your techy guy

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

What tips would you add for planning strong Wi-fi connectivity for your event?