August 20, 2019
By Sheryll Poe

It was the live fan activation event that broke the internet. Mercedes-Benz's "Last Fan Standing" contest during Super Bowl LII asked home viewers to hold a finger on an image of a Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe on their smartphones for the chance to win the car. But the site crashed, and instead of a new car, fans got an error page. Mercedes-Benz pointed to overloaded servers and last-minute technical difficulties in its effort to “achieve a technological first." Though it occurred on a large and very public scale, the Last Fan Standing event disaster will seem familiar to any hotel, venue, or group event manager who has to rely on an outdated internet infrastructure to meet the demands of attendees, vendors, and suppliers. And it's likely that the Last Fan Standing snafu would not have happened in a 5G world.

What Is a 5G World?

Simply put, 5G is the next generation of wireless internet and voice services, the successor to earlier mobile generations such as 2G, 3G, and 4G. Currently, about 75% of total mobile connections in the U.S. are on 4G LTE. But that system won't be able to keep up with future needs; analysts at Deloitte predict that there will be a fourfold increase in mobile data traffic by 2021. That's where 5G comes in: The wireless network can move large amounts of data more quickly, with some suggesting it will offer speeds up to 1,000 times faster than 4G LTE — 10 gigabits per second vs. 4G's 100 megabits per second. Best of all, 5G will do all of this high-speed data transfer with low latency, meaning there will be minimal delays. While the current 4G network has a delay time of about 50 milliseconds, 5G will cut it to only 1 millisecond. Such high speeds at low latency will revolutionize services such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and livestreaming. The faster and more reliable 5G network also has the potential to power machine-learning technologies including autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and the Internet of Things (IoT), as more devices can connect and communicate with one another seamlessly.

Creating a Better, More Immersive Meeting Experience

5G will also be a game-changer for meetings, events, and conferences and the venue managers and organizers behind them. “5G will provide faster data speeds and carry a massive amount of data for a large number of simultaneous users. So users in high-density areas — like airports, stadiums, or urban areas — can still experience the fast speeds and low latency of 5G service," Michele Dupré, group vice president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, wrote in an article for HospitalityTech.com. One of the biggest complaints among meeting and event attendees is slow or lagging Wi-Fi. Experts say 5G will make the that issue obsolete. “What we're putting, unfortunately, as an industry into all types of venues now is getting a little long in the tooth, and we need the next-generation wireless," David Hagan, CEO of Boingo Wireless, said during a "Smart Venue" panel discussion at CES 2018. Boingo Wireless provides high-speed Wi-Fi service to airports, hotels, and other public places worldwide. 5G will also make new technologies and services within reach for more venues and help them create better meetings and events. “We see 5G as the potential to establish a seamless platform that enables things like hologram-based keynotes that generate increased audience engagement; real-time analytics that allow us to instantly understand and adjust trade fair promotions that attract more attendees; and streaming AR to mobile devices as a way to make presentation graphics more meaningful," Juliano Lissoni, managing director at MCI Canada Ltd., told PCMA.

What 5G Means for Venues

The benefits for venue and hospitality management professionals go far beyond just a better, faster internet, Verizon's Dupre noted. “5G brings much bigger opportunities for hospitality providers because when you unburden the restrictions of bandwidth, you can push the possibilities of technology on a much grander scale." That includes the ability to use AR and VR to better market venues and plan events, explained Brandt Krueger, an event technology consultant and co-host of the Event Tech podcast. “One of the things that I've always been looking at is how we can use augmented reality and virtual reality on the back end, on the sales and venue management side. So I love this idea of … walking into an empty ballroom, unfolding your phone and being able to bring that up over, and then overlay, 'OK, this is what it's going to look like in theater setup. This is what it's going to look like in rounds.' And be able to walk through live there, in the room." In addition, 5G networks can make venues more secure, an issue that is at the forefront for event planners, as well as venue and hotel owners and managers, in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas shootings and recent Sri Lanka hotel and church bombings. A faster, more responsive wireless network can use geolocation services to locate individuals, for example, or relay critical information about a breach or an incident to venue managers and event organizers, who can then push out security alerts to attendees instantaneously. “The benefit of 5G to the venue itself, as opposed to the consumer is going to be dramatic. Because the consumer doesn't necessarily need 5G speed and latency in their hands," Chuck Steedman, COO for smart venue operator AEG Worldwide, said at the "Smart Venue" panel discussion at CES. "What the venue needs is the ability to process. Right now, the standard for venues is about 200 security cameras; in five years, it'll be 2,000." A 5G-enabled system can also help managers automate and control not just a security system, but an entire venue's operations. “When it comes to the world of venues, 5G will provide opportunities to streamline and automate many maintenance-related processes," Reed Peterson, head of Mobile World Congress Americas and GSMA told VenuesNow. “For example, increased network connectivity can allow for buildings to install a remotely operated automated system that'll control ventilation and air conditioning, lighting, and other systems through a management system — from anywhere in the world via 5G-powered sensors."

When Will 5G Get to U.S. Venues?

While 5G is not yet widely available in the United States, telecom giants including Verizon and AT&T are testing markets and preparing to roll out 5G networks in the next couple of years. “5G will be mainstream within the next three to five years in most major metropolitan areas," Vanessa Ogle, CEO of hotel technology provider Enseo, told Skift. “Hoteliers should be looking to redeploy their network investment into 'smart' investments now that can easily be repurposed for things like IoT smart room features that will still be relevant even when 5G is in full swing." In the meantime, larger city venues are already lining up to lead the way on 5G infrastructure. In September 2018, the Los Angeles Convention Center became the first convention center in the United States to permanently install a 5G wireless network to provide next-generation capabilities for the 25,000 exhibitors and attendees at Mobile World Congress Americas. “The reason we were fortunate enough to get the first 5G antennas was because we were hosting the Mobile World Congress convention, and the mobile carriers wanted to show off the new technology to the people who will bring it to the rest of the world," Doane Liu, executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Convention & Tourism, told VenuesNow. Other cities and convention centers are expected to follow suit. “There's three or four cities that are being looked at next, but nothing's been determined yet," Liu said. “Within a few years, every convention center will have 5G, and it will be on every pole and light post as well." From there, it's just a race for other hotels and venues to follow suit, said event technology consultant Krueger. “In the short term again, we're going to struggle with just getting it to where we need it. This 5G is going to replace Wi-Fi; it's just a question of how far out into the sticks does it get and how quickly? So your resorts and things like that are absolutely going to hang onto Wi-Fi to the last possible minute, because they're out of the city proper. But the city venues are going to have to deal with this sooner rather than later."

What Venue Managers Can Do Now to Prepare

Venues wishing to speed up 5G integration will need to make the business case for a major investment, which means having successful case studies to support their requests. Expect to see the first of these new services and applications rolled out at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and soccer tournaments in Europe, among other big events in the sports calendar, said Gary Miles, chief marketing officer at software and services provider Amdocs. “It's essential for operators to find successful use cases for 5G, given the investment levels. Amdocs' research has revealed that major live sports events could hold the key to consumer adoption of 5G." Venues that want to prioritize connectivity should look at ways to build partnerships that can move them to the front of the line, Krueger said. “I think a smart venue would want to approach the carriers and say, 'Hey, what can we do to get higher on the priority list of getting these transmitters around our venue? So that then we can promote ourselves as having the fastest line in town and you don't have to pay a dime extra for it now.' I still believe that there are smart venues that will come along, and they will offer these things as amenities, and planners will see that and reward them with great business."

Sheryll Poe

Sheryll Poe

Sheryll is a former journalist and experienced writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. From famous business leaders to startups, her work covers the latest trends in hospitality, retail, business, technology, real estate, travel, and more. When not wielding words on behalf of clients, she enjoys cooking (and eating), watching bad reality television, and traveling the world.

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