PCOs, venues and suppliers attending the debate on free Wi-Fi for conference delegates as part of ABPCO’s Conference Cloud campaign on the whole agreed that there is a need for ‘free Wi-Fi for delegates at a basic level’ and that venues need to define what ‘basic’ means for them. A list of key delegate requirements for Wi-Fi access was drawn up during the discussion and a draft list was created of key qualifying questions that need to be answered, by clients, PCOs and venues regarding their specific Wi-Fi requirements for an event.
The debate looked at the growing demand for bandwidth in conferencing and events as delegates’ expectations increase due to consumer experiences of high-speed bandwidth and simultaneous, multi-device connectivity. Cisco’s Ian Bull shared case studies where venues have introduced new sponsorship and revenue models to cover costs without passing these on directly to users. Meetings industry technology consultant Corbin Ball highlighted the huge increase in demand for bandwidth, referencing recent research by iBAHN which reported that 25% of devices on hotel networks are iPads and that these consume 400% more data than the average iPhone.
ABPCO Chair Michael Foreman commented: “The debate brought together key industry PCOs, major venues, suppliers and other industry associations to identify what the requirements are for Wi-Fi from clients and delegates now and in the coming years. We heard some really interesting examples from Cisco where venues in the USA have developed innovative ways of covering Wi-Fi costs through things like apps offering sponsorship opportunities and gained some insight into what is coming in terms of ever-increasing bandwidth demand from Corbin Ball.
“There was a general agreement that there is a need for a ‘basic’ level of Wi-Fi access at no charge for delegates attending conferences and events, but that venues need to be transparent about what ‘basic’ means for them. We also brainstormed key uses of Wi-Fi and questions regarding usage, volume and applications that venues need to be asking and PCOs need to be clarifying with clients to be much more specific about their Wi-Fi requirements. We will be developing a document to circulate following this discussion.”
Ian Bull, Business Development Lead, Service Provider at Cisco, said: “What a fantastic debate, it is great to see venues and PCOs coming together to share their views and to learn and understand the potential revenue opportunities. There are many ways venues could package Wi-Fi offerings to cover the high density of users. For example, using Wi-Fi as a means of promoting event sponsorship and value added services to users.”
Iona Courtenay-Warren from Hotelscene added: “We need to be very clear about the difference between free and free to use Wi-Fi. Clients don’t mind paying for a service, but want it packaged as part of the rate, not a line item. Clients are interested in total cost, not separate items.”
The debate was hosted by Twickenham Experience, which offers free Wi-Fi to delegates and was the first to sign up to the Conference Cloud campaign. Simon Mills, Head of Sales and Marketing at Twickenham Experience, commented: “The ABPCO campaign has certainly opened up the debate on free Wi-Fi. It is interesting to see how venues and PCOs think; there are definitely two schools of thought. The bottom line is that venues should give a basic level of Wi-Fi for free; at the very least delegates should be able to access social media and answer email. Twickenham Experience fully supports ABPCO’s position of providing Wi-Fi free of charge to conference delegates at a basic level.”
The Conference Cloud campaign, which launched in August, has already secured the support of over 130 venues that offer free Wi-Fi to delegates and has received more than 200 petition signatories. The ABPCO debate is set to continue at its forthcoming 25th anniversary annual conference to be held in London on January 25th- 27th which is open to members and non-members.