Demystifying Internet Options at Events

It is no secret that having a reliable Internet connection can make or break an event.  Nothing brings life to a screeching halt quite like having a PowerPoint presentation freeze during a speech or a live video stream suddenly cut out for virtual attendees around the world.  The goal is simple:  Just make sure the Internet works without interruption and content is accessible to the people you want it to be.

If only there was a check box for that option.  There’s not.

When filling out the order form to get Internet in your booth or event space, all of the different options can be a bit confusing.  But, in the end, most of the Internet options really boil down to 4 key deciding factors:

  1. Public vs. Private
  2. Static vs. Dynamic
  3. Dedicated vs. Shared
  4. Bandwidth

Below is a simplified explanation of each option.  Armed with this basic knowledge, you should be able to navigate the Internet connection landscape at your next event and feel confident that “internet issues” will be a non-issue.

1) Public vs. Private Network Connections – Who do you want to share your content with?

Let us take a look at two different scenarios.  In the first scenario you are live streaming your event to people around the world.  You want the video that you are capturing to be available anywhere to anyone.  A public IP address is what you need in this scenario because the devices on the network are “visible” to devices outside the network (via the Internet or another network).

In the second scenario you have a social media display in a booth and you’ll be using a laptop to access the display through a web browser.  If your network is configured as “private,” devices outside the network cannot “see” or communicate directly to your devices.  With a private IP address you can access and surf the web, or read email, but you cannot distribute any content such as audio or video streams. Private IP addresses are typically less expensive than public IP addresses and, for the most part, are capable of doing anything that you would do on your own home computer.  This would be sufficient for this scenario.

2) Static vs. Dynamic IP Addresses – Does your IP address stay the same or change and does it matter?

In the live streaming scenario above you will likely need a static IP address so that your video stream can be found using a single, consistent address throughout the event.  If your address changed in the middle of the General Session you would have broken links and people staring at blank screens because they would be looking at the wrong address.

It’s like moving without telling anyone.  A lot of mail ends up “returned to sender.”

In the display scenario however, you don’t really care whether or not your address changes because you are the only one requesting information.  Every time you send a request to an address (i.e. to a URL), that request is sent with a return address so it always knows exactly where to return the response (i.e. to your laptop).  Dynamic IP addresses are typically less expensive than static IP addresses and are usually used by default on home networks.  A dynamic address is the best choice for the majority of event or booth purposes.

3) Dedicated vs. Shared – How many people are going to be sharing your connection and how important is speed?

In some respects, networks are like highways: more traffic leads to more congestion.  The same is true with the Internet: more people surfing leads to slower Internet speeds.

A dedicated line (or a dedicated IP address) is analogous to having the entire highway to yourself.  With a dedicated line you have access to the full amount of bandwidth allocated to that line.  No other users means no congestion and faster speeds.

A shared line is, as the name suggests, shared among all the users connected to that line.  If you have a 10 Mbps (megabits per second) shared line with 10 users, each user gets an average maximum speed of 1 Mbps.  That same 10 Mbps shared between 200 users reduces each user’s bandwidth to 51 kbps (yes, worse than 56k dialup).  Internet speeds on a shared line are unpredictable and tend to jump around quite a bit as users join and leave the network.

Dedicated lines are typically more expensive than shared lines.  However, if enough users are on that shared line, speed could drop to a crawl and could potentially cripple your event technology.  It is for this reason that dedicated lines are almost always preferred over shared lines at events.

4) Bandwidth – What kind of content are you sharing and how quickly do you want it to upload?

Ensuring that you have sufficient bandwidth to run your event technology is extremely important.  To give some sense of perspective, a standard definition Netflix video consumes 1.5 Mbps and a high definition video consumes 6.8 Mbps.  A good way to estimate the amount of bandwidth that you need is to use a free bandwidth estimator tool. Simply enter the number of users, devices and type of content you will be accessing to estimate how much bandwidth you will need to view content in a timely fashion.  My recommendation for a display of social photos and videos (using 1-5 devices) is 3 Mbps.  If you are using more than 10 devices you’re probably going to have somebody administering your network for you such as PSAV.

Key take-aways?

This isn’t exactly stimulating subject matter.  However, if you are in charge of planning or running an event, at some point these questions regarding Internet network options will come up.  Save these notes.  Put them on a cheat sheet.  Smile and hand in your event order form with confidence that your Internet connection will run smoothly, making you look like an IT genius.

At SocialPoint we specialize in helping clients of all sizes plan and execute events, trade shows, conferences and more.  For more information or to learn about our consulting services and event solutions contact us or visit

Written by

Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award winning innovator on event technology. In 2011, BizBash Magazine added Sam to its annual innovators list. Since then, Sam has won awards from Exhibitor Magazine, IBTM World, RSVP MN, International Live Events Association and MPI for innovation in event technology.