Wi-fi in a conference room - are we getting screwed?
August 19, 2009 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Why is it costing so much to get internet service in a hotel conference room?

I'm organizing a small conference (about 50 people) who will all be in a hotel meeting room using the internet on their laptops.

The hotel says its wi-fi doesn't cover the conference rooms and that we have to go through its external A/V company. This company wants to charge about $2500. They are OK with us using a different provider for the internet service; the one our planner has found quotes a price about $1000 less.

Both of these seem kind of ridiculous to me. If the hotel can provide in-room wifi for $10-15, why is it so much more to provide it in a different room? Is there a cheaper solution?

(Sorry to say I don't know much about the specifications behind these quotes. The cheaper one includes a payment to the main A/V company for use of a line, and the rest pays for a wireless router and a technician.)
posted by lakeroon to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the answer is, "They charge so much because they can get away with doing so." It has nothing to do with how much it would cost them to do it, and everything to do with how much people like you are willing to pay.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:23 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

They charge that because they can get people to pay it. As a pratical standpoint they may not wish to build out their physical plant to support a conference full of people and their technology needs. They probably don't keep A/V people on staff to setup and support projectors and mics and amps either. It is probably easier for them to not have these things and not have to deal with the support than to deal with paying conference organizers when things don't work well.

The places I have seen with Wi-Fi either farm out support to some distant place where the support can be spotty at best or the place is so low end that the router is in some closet somewhere...both of these aren't things you want to depend on for a conference full of people.

As to wether or not this is a good business decision for the hotel...who knows. If they invested the money in infrastructure they may be able to advertise for new business with the perk of free or low cost Wi-Fi. However competition and market forces in your local area are going to drive that.
posted by mmascolino at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2009

I agree with the above assessment.

I've seen this a number of times at depositions, where it might cost $500 for two lawyers to get online. Some don't care and just pass the cost upstream. Cha ching. It's a racket.

A friend helped organize a ~100 person conference, the best deal he found was per person, where he got a stack of postcards, each with a one-day wifi password. This was a technology session so everyone had laptops, this approach might save you more money if, say, only half the people have laptops. That's obviously a hotel-specific deal, but it is something you might ask about.

Side note, if everyone is going to have a laptop, be certain that they have enough outlets and enough power.
posted by samsm at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2009

Best answer: Can you get an ethernet line into the room for cheaper? If so, I'd just do that and get an off-the-shelf wifi AP with NAT and plug it in.
posted by rhizome at 1:51 PM on August 19, 2009

Yeah, they charge that much because they have a captive audience. People bitch about it, then they pay. No big deal for the company that manages it, and providing access isn't that expensive that a conference not using their service will break them to any degree.

When I worked on conferences as the IT guy I made friends with the IT guys from the company providing access and got a free pass that way. Obviously that won't work if you're looking for access for the conference attendees.
posted by splice at 1:53 PM on August 19, 2009

Tell the hotel you are prepared to pay $x and only $x for internet at your conference. If they balk, walk away and find another hotel. Hotels are plenty hungry for sales now and there are lots of hotels. I bet the original hotel comes up with a better deal or you find one someplace else. This us especially true if you are asking them to provide food+beverage too. Or maybe host the conference at an academic instituion nearby or a co-working facility. Nearly all have free wi-fi.
posted by zachlipton at 2:36 PM on August 19, 2009

Commonly the hotel has sourced the networking to a 3rd party company, and has little ability to dicker on price. They litterally are reselling someone elses technical services for a share of the cut.

If you are upset with the wifi costs -- I assume you haven't seen any other fees yet? :).
posted by SirStan at 2:56 PM on August 19, 2009

Just wait until you see the line item for coffee service.

At the last event I organized at a major hotel/conference center, I convinced my client to order an ethernet line ($1200, I believe, for 3 days) and buy a $50 linksys wi-fi router. The hotel was OK with it, but the IT pros had to hack through the hotel's firewall for the set up to work.

I second zachlipton's advice--let the hotels bid for your business. And if there's any chance you might hold another conference in the future, make sure the event/conference director know this fact: they'll often offer discounts for potential repeat customers.

Also, is there a specific reason you need to hold the conference at a hotel? Check around for alternate meeting spots, such as ala carte/standalone meeting spaces that offer free/cheap wi-fi. Here in Seattle, for example, the Lake Union Crew Rowing Club has an amazing waterfront meeting room for lease by the day for a fraction of the cost of a hotel conference room.
posted by prinado at 10:23 PM on August 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all who have attempted to answer. I think I did not make clear this is an issue with the A/V vendor, not the hotel. I'm aware that hotels are expensive.

Rhizome, I'll look into the ethernet question; thanks for bringing it up.
posted by lakeroon at 5:02 AM on August 20, 2009

My access point at the house is pretty old and pretty basic but I'm pretty sure it won't provide access to 50 people. To provide reliable wifi to 50 people using a home-style networking equipment you may well need a switch running half a dozen routers configured on different channels and supporting 802.11 b as well as g.

That assumes you already have a functioning Ethernet which might be the big trick.

I can imagine fucking around with firewalls, passwords, and routers while trying to put on a professional conference and after 5 minutes I'd be thinking "$1500 to make this issue go away doesn't seem so bad."
posted by deanj at 7:47 AM on August 26, 2009

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