Venues, professional conference organisers (PCOs) and technology providers came together at meetings industry tradeshow International Confex last week to explore how to develop models for offering Wi-Fi free of charge to conference delegates as part of the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) Conference Cloud campaign.
The session was hosted by ABPCO Head of External Relations, Michael Foreman and featured a panel including William Jones of Max Wi-Fi; Justin Hollins, Director of Retail Sales at iBAHN; and Mike Clanton of mymeetingsprofessional.com.
The main focus of the discussion was to consider the true costs of the infrastructure required, how these costs can be addressed and the end user experience.
Speaking about the issue of cost, Hollins said: “Wi-Fi must reflect the type of usage. As people upgrade their phones and other technology, Wi-FI should also be upgraded.”
To recoup some of the costs of upgrading hardware, Jones suggested re-using parts of the technology kit. “Technology is moving at such a pace that within three or four years it is becoming obsolete. Wi-Fi investments have a shelf life, but the kit can be reused – shifting old technology from a heavy traffic area to a quieter area, for example. Some of the kit may even be able to be re-sold,” he said.
Return on investment was also discussed during the session. “As a venue you should expect a return on your Wi-Fi investment, but that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be free for delegates,” said Hollins. “Perhaps you could charge only the heavy users, which on average is five per cent of attendees. Or where’s the harm in offering 30 minutes free to everybody?”
Hollins added that if free Wi-FI is being offered it is important to drive delegate behavior while they are connected. “They may be getting free-Wi-Fi, but remind them that it is yours. Apps can help with this and also provide another platform to offer sponsorship,” he said.
ABPCO said an issue that has come to the fore as a result of the Conference Cloud campaign is venues wanting to offer free Wi-Fi to delegates, but being limited by long-standing contractual commitment with service providers. One solution offered in the session was to consider other revenue sources to offset the cost of offering free Wi-Fi, such as sponsorship of the landing page.
Clanton closed the session with a reminder that it is the users alone who determine the quality of the Wi-Fi on offer: “People consume bandwidth differently. Therefore bandwidth should be based on expectations and uses, not on contracts.”
ABPCO Chair Jennifer Jenkins (pictured) added: “Conference Cloud has made huge strides in terms of highlighting the importance of Wi-Fi as the life blood of interactive events but there is still a need for further understanding and new models that help venues offer an effective Wi-Fi solution to PCOs and their clients. It was great to get all parties together and discuss some of the possible solutions and take another step forward in the Wi-Fi debate.”
The ABPCO Conference Cloud campaign currently over 200 venues committed to offering free Wi-Fi to delegates.
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