Summer Series Part 2: WiFi for Production Services Outdoor
May 19, 2016 by Milko Figueroa

Getting wireless Internet access to an outdoor event (sometimes out in the middle of nowhere) is a multi-dimensional challenge. Simply tapping into the main Internet access point is only the first obstacle. Making sure that the individual user groups—production, medical services, media, vendors, security, ticket sales, food service, and others—get reliable, exclusive connectivity is more complex. Luckily, there’s a way to make sure that every group gets what it needs without wasting a single drop of bandwidth.

Rear view of a security guard listening to his headset

Security guard listening to his wireless headset

Although many outdoor event organizers hesitate to spend large sums of money just so attendees can use their cellphones and upload photos to social media (it’s a cost center after all), they do have to provide wireless Internet access for production purposes: employees need to clock in and out, media needs to upload files, vendors and ticket sales need access to cloud-based payment services, medical teams need a dedicated Voice over IP phone line, and catering and logistics need to communicate.

In order to make sure that every group gets the bandwidth it needs to operate efficiently, organizers should hire a managed IT services firm to configure sub-networks (subnets) or virtual local area networks, (VLAN) for each user group. The network providers use hardware and software to capture the ISP’s total bandwidth and allocate it across the various user groups. Subnets prevent one group, which perhaps requires 10 to 15 Gigabytes from using the bandwidth dedicated to another group, which may only need 5 Gigabytes.

Why not just purchase more bandwidth from the beginning? Besides being expensive and, in some cases, not even an option, doing so doesn’t guarantee that every group will get what it needs. One user group could unwittingly suck up the bandwidth of another and weaken the entire operation. Having a managed IT firm configure subnets is not only more efficient, but it gives organizers additional flexibility since the network provider can actually move bandwidth around during times when one user group needs more bandwidth than another.

Determining the subnet allocations requires some planning. Event organizers (it’s always a good idea to include the in-house IT manager along too) need to sit down with the network provider to break down the needs of each group (uploading files vs. using cellphones to communicate) and determine which of the group’s requirements are mission critical versus nice to have. For example, making sure that public safety and emergency medical services are always connected may be more important than the catering crew being able to call in its orders.

With great power comes great responsibility—so to speak. Having a managed IT services firm configure subnets isn’t a one-and-done proposition. A network requires consistent monitoring and not just one technician looking at a computer screen from 3,000 miles away. Outdoor events are fluid. Sometimes, access points have to be moved. Weather, water, even the density of human bodies can disrupt wireless signals. The only way to anticipate issues and handle them expediently is to work with a company that places network engineers on site.

Young rescue assistant at a music festival speaking on the phone

Rescue assistant at a music festival speaking on cell phone

Subnets are a smart and balanced way to allocate bandwidth for an outdoor event. When executed well, they give planners the ability to control connectivity and costs. Being able to map bandwidth to the ebb and flow of each production group’s requirements at any given moment means that less bandwidth may be required overall. And, of course, selecting a company with experience in temporary installations, such as outdoor concerts or sporting events, brings with it access to a library of best practices and best responses to situations that would likely never occur in a permanent network setting.

To learn what it takes to install a temporary WiFi network for your next outdoor event, please contact  Milko Figueroa at (310)417-3544 or via email at mfigueroa@ smartsourcerentals.com

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