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5G Broadband: What Planners Need to Know Right Now

Greatly enhanced tech capabilities among presenters, attendees, and exhibitors are close to being unleashed. But planners must understand 5G’s technical aspects in order to tap its potential.

The emerging 5G cellular standard will significantly change how content is delivered and consumed at conferences, but planners must address technical and logistical considerations to optimize the ocean of bandwidth that will soon be at their disposal. That was the message from two tech specialists who led a well-attended session at the recent Professional Convention Management Association Convening Leaders conference in San Francisco.

At the moment, 4G broadband is the standard across North America. Within the meetings industry, 4G has allowed content presenters to stream video wirelessly in their sessions (when a portion of the total bandwidth is segmented only for their use). In addition, attendees can now check email and surf the internet far more quickly than in the prior 3G environment.

Today, however, the biggest telecommunications companies—AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint—are furiously rolling out 5G spectrum and antennas in a race to win over mobile-phone customers. With 5G, the volume and speed of data transmission can be as much as 100 times greater than 4G, which is a game changer for live events. One example: Attendees will be able to stream video without any glitches, allowing them to watch sessions taking place without being in the room.

5gPCMAsession1.pngOn the other hand, there are important factors that planners must consider.
Brandt Krueger, owner of Event Technology Consulting in Minneapolis, noted in the PCMA session (pictured here) that “the carriers do not all work in the same frequencies for their 5G delivery,” which makes a difference in how well each carrier’s signal travels across distances and through walls. “The key thing to remember is that you trade range for speed,” he said. The carriers that use higher frequencies have signals that don’t penetrate walls and other objects as well, while the carriers that use lower frequencies have signals that travel farther but not as fast. “When cities say they are 5G capable right now, you have to determine if that means they have higher speed or better range of coverage.”

Will Curran, founder of Endless Events, a New York-based AV and event production company, said that the trade-off will diminish once the carriers have more 5G-capable transmission towers across cities, coupled with signal-enhancing antennas placed within meeting facilities either by venue management or, when necessary, by planners themselves. “Ask the facility if there already are 5G antennas in its largest meeting and prefunction spaces to handle the needs of a lot of people,” and consider placing additional antennas in certain hallways or breakout rooms if coverage in some parts of the facility is not ideal. To determine the approximate bandwidth needs of your events, Curran’s firm has created a bandwidth calculator for planners to use.

One other factor planners must account for: 5G burns mobile-phone battery power more quickly than 4G, so additional charging stations might have to be provided. Planners could also mention this in pre-event materials and encourage attendees to bring their own power banks for on-the-go-recharging.

For a deeper dive into 5G issues, check out this New York Times article.

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