Ask the experts: How to add a wifi network at events
In the year 2013, your customers expect wifi at your event. But having a wifi network installed is not a trivial task. During a recent panel discussion at SXSW, industry experts shared their knowledge on how to add a wifi network at events. Plus, once you have made wifi available, this post has tips on how to recuperate the installation costs including selling access to the wifi as part of the ticket purchase process.
Ask The Experts
Earlier this week, the ThunderTix team attended the annual SXSWi technology conference. The conference is known for being the place where new technologies are debuted and for thought provoking speeches by industry experts. One such speech that related directly to venue owners was the panel on how to add a wifi at events.
For the uninitiated, wireless computer networks, abbreviated to just "wifi", are what connect computers and smartphones to the Internet without the need for physical wires. Many homes now have wifi connections for laptops, tablet computers, even for the thermostat, but those are not powerful enough to serve the needs of hundreds or thousands of concertgoers.
The SXSW panel included Chase Sadler of Alpheus Communications, Clifford Skolnick of RightRound and Joe Wargo, president of Alpha Omega Wireless. During the talk, the experts spoke at length of their own respective challenges when installing wifi networks at event both large and small.
Early on, the panelists spoke of how much has change since the advent of wifi enabled smartphones. Time was, a venue could assign wifi availability a "nice to have, but not really needed" priority. But now, in the year 2013, event patrons have an expectation that some form of wifi will be available. Chase Sadler went so far as to say that venues and events that do not offer wifi are at risk of creating a "bad experience" for their customers (yes, the expectation is that pervasive, especially at music concerts).
All three of the panelists agreed that installing a wifi network at a venue is not a trivial task. Each shared their own stories of how venues would contact them just days before an event was to occur and ask to have a wifi network installed.
Sadler talked about how one venue asked to have the ability for 30,000 people connect their smartphones to the venue wifi network - simultaneously - just hours before the concert started. Normally it takes weeks for a wifi network with such large capacity to be installed, and Sadler's company went to extraordinary lengths to meet the deadline. Luckily, the venue was located close to a university that already had ultra high-speed capacity, so a "piggyback" connection was made fro the venue at the very last minute.
Permanent Or Temporary?
Later during the discussion, the panelists made recommendations for venues considering adding a wifi network. Key among them was whether a venue needs to have wifi available on a temporary or permanent basis.
Venues that anticipate demand for wifi only for certain events types can choose to contract a third party for service and incur lower short term costs. All of the equipment that enables a wifi network would be brought to the location, enabled by qualified technicians, monitored during the event, then packed up and taken away when the event is over. Such a temporary solution could be a good fit for an event like an outdoor festival or fair. Similarly, an establish venue that has booked a one-time performance by a musical act that is popular with a demographic known to be “high tech” may find a temporary wifi network a viable solution.
The costs for contracting out the service would become prohibitive if the service is needed on a regular basis. Having the third party service return frequently will, eventually, cost more than it would to purchase and install a permanent wifi network.
It is important to note that a permanent wifi network installation takes much more time than a temporary one. The equipment must be installed in a dedicated area that shields the sensitive electronics from the weather and the wireless antennas must be placed in the rafters at several different points inside the venue.
Ok, Now What?
Assuming careful deliberation on either a temporary or permanent wifi network has been made, the next step of how to add a wifi network at events would be how to recuperate costs.
Sell tickets using a wireless tablet
A wifi network can be used for more than just meeting the patron expectations. It can be put to productive business use. Ticket sales at a venue can be a more in-person, fluid task if you make use of today's modern wireless tablet computers (which need a wifi network). An earlier post described some of the benefits of selling tickets using an Android tablet to augment a sale on a website and at the traditional walk-up box office window. As noted in the post, a traditional venue may have staff walk along the line of people queued up to buy tickets at the box office window. Sales made in this manner can be for will-call pick up or even as a 21st century barker (“Get your tickets! Tickets here!“).
Wireless barcode readers at the gate(s)
Many venues already make use of handheld barcode scanners at the admission gate to increase efficiency The scanners need to be connected to a computer, like a laptop, and that computer works best when connected to the Internet. Of course it is possible to run network wires to the computer when using a barcode scanner, but if a wifi network is available, those wires can be eliminated reducing set-up and breakdown times. The very latest generation of handheld scanners can be connected to modern ticketing software, via wifi, for real-time ticket validation. The benefits of this configuration being used at the gate are many, most notably a reduction in operating costs. The money saved by using wireless barcode scanners can be applied to recuperating the costs of the wifi network when amortized over a long enough timeline.
Monetize your investment
Selling tickets with tablets and speeding up admissions with barcodes scanners alone are valid business cases for having a wifi network. Combined with the SXSW panel recommendations for meeting patrons expectations at an event, installation costs may be totally recuperated. But there is one more option - selling access to the wifi network as part of the ticket purchase.
Making wifi access a revenue stream is still in a primordial stage of business development, but as chronicled in an earlier post, the theory is becoming a practice faster than expected. In fact, offering paid access to wifi as a ticket upgrade would recuperate the installation cost as quickly as possible.
If you have recently installed a new wifi network, or upgraded your old one, ThunderTix ticketing software supports popular handheld barcode scanners, most likely the ones you are already using. If you need to start from scratch, we sell and rent handheld scanners too.
What do you think? Is it time to install a wifi network at your venue? Let us know in the comments below.