4 Steps to Mastering a Wi-Fi Site Inspection

The experience of a Wi-Fi failure is all too common, and when your attendees have connection problems, it can feel like you don’t have any control over the situation. However, exactly as you don’t have to be a chef to write a great menu, the good news is you can take charge by planning ahead and following the four steps below.

1. Know the lingo. Before you get into a discussion with your venue’s sales team, learn the meaning of these important terms. There are three things that make Wi-Fi work:

> Bandwidth: The more people you have on Wi-Fi, the more devices they’re carrying, and the more data-hungry your event apps are, the more bandwidth you’ll need.

> Infrastructure: To get the bandwidth to your attendees’ devices, the network has wireless access points, which can bottleneck if they are too old or there aren’t enough.

> Support: No technology can work without a team of people supporting it.

2. Do your homework. Prior to your site visit, ask the venue the following questions:

> How much bandwidth do you have available over my dates to dedicate to me?

> Can you send me your wireless access point map?

> How does your on-site support structure work, and what external support is in place?

Also conduct your own research. Engage your internal stakeholders (programming team, speakers, sponsors, IT, etc.) and organize all Internet needs. Think about show management needs like registration. Are there aspects of your event that could operate on hardwired Internet instead of Wi-Fi? For attendees, think about mobile apps they’ll be using. Ask presenters what they intend to do on the Internet (e.g., polling, show videos, live Web surfing). Also ask if they will be instructing all attendees in their session to visit the same site at the same time. Evaluate your past events and pinpoint what went well and what could be improved in terms of Wi-Fi connections.

3. Cover all your bases. Now you’re at the site visit. Make sure you leave feeling reassured your Internet needs are well understood and that the venue has the resources to successfully meet them.

> Make sure the person responsible for supporting Internet attends the site visit.

> Be clear about your needs and prepared to explain your expectations.

> Be wary of vague answers.

> Make it clear you want reporting after your meeting (so you know how much you used for next time). The best reports show total bandwidth used for your event over the course of the day.

> Steer clear of speed-test apps. The speed will be great in an empty ballroom, but what really matters is when the room is full of attendees. Only understanding the bandwidth and infrastructure will tell you that. 

4. Choose your strategy. Did you leave the site visit feeling reassured? If not, get a second opinion. Find a technical adviser who can help you interpret the venue’s response. It’s possible to add temporary infrastructure to a venue, although be aware this tends to cost more than in-house Wi-Fi. Lastly, if Internet is critical to all aspects of your conference, consider backup bandwidth and infrastructure, known as a redundant system.

Matt Harvey manages client network services at PSAV, a team of network engineers dedicated to flawless event Wi-Fi experiences for in-house venue partners and temporary event setups. Contact him at mharvey@psav.com.