Just before Christmas, we were asked to support HPE with their big annual event at the ExCel Centre London…..their request to deploy a network of Aruba Beacons across the entire show, to not only support content delivery but also wayfinding and audio tours. Oh yes, and do it in 48 hours while the show was being built!
Luckily, we at Eagle View have spent the last couple of years optimizing the delivery of location and Beacon networks for the Events Industry. We have worked with multiple hardware and software vendors, from the Middle East to Cannes, supporting small niche content led events to the largest of trade shows and exhibitions. We were therefore in a good position when asked to give an honest account of the Aruba experience with respect to other technologies within this challenging environment.
Why challenging? A very tight setup time window, an inability to test in advance, need to understand the impact of large numbers of delegates in close proximity, and often a lot of conflicting technology in an enclosed space. All of this, combined with an ecosystem of multiple integrated technologies makes for an intensive few days…and did I mention the impossibly short tear down window? Preparation is key.
For HPE Discover 2016, we actually had the luxury of being on site the Friday before set up. As expected, the event at this stage, was still a little “fluid.” It’s always amazing how they manage to pull it all together on time. But this day was critical to understanding the progress of the separate parts of the build which would enable us to roll out the network as soon as any infrastructure became available.
Set up began on Saturday and was completed Sunday evening. We had estimated 650 Aruba Beacons that would be needed (we did have the potential to deploy up to 1,500), but we actually deployed 747 including 60 notification specific Beacons. We have found less can be more especially for location-based deployments. An app that sees 4 or 5 Beacons tends to actually be more stable than one seeing 19 to 20. Balance is important as large volumes of people do create distortions.
Key factors we look for in set up are:
- understanding where the crowds will be
- trying and maintain uniformity in location (height and spacing)
- and if possible trying to achieve prominence.
HPE had used a company called EventBase to build a great mobile app for the event. Once you had your Discover 2016 app, users could access a wealth of cool content, agendas, must-see demos and great networking services. Layered over the top of this were the proximity-related services of maps, wayfinding, self-guided tours and audio content.
You do need a good app for your visitors to engage with and this does need to be promoted (one thing I would say was it could have been a bit easier to locate in the app stores) and although Discover 2016 was very intuitive, HPE went a bit further and had specific people in the Boulevard with “ask me how to Download the App “ signs which worked very well.
As mentioned, we had delivered multiple networks across multiple events, with many service/ hardware providers. Normally networks are specified by event organisers and hence the obvious request from HPE to use Aruba.
The first thing you see when using Aruba is the simplicity of their Beacon application. The integration with the application and support from EventBase meant literally that everything worked out of the box.
No need for battery resets, preparation, QR code scanning or laptops. We also had access to some very good (and short!) “how to” videos on-line from Nick Newton, the Aruba Product Line Manager for Meridian and the Beacons.
They also lasted – we actually found beacons from the previous show 12 months before that still worked and we could re-use!
The Aruba Beacons obviously work best with an Aruba Wi-Fi network in terms of the breadth of services you can deliver, but this is normally not the case in events. However, even with your standard event Wi-Fi, the app enabled us to very simply and quickly deploy beacons using a mobile phone app when structures became available. Because we could see in real time everyone’s progress, staff could be coordinated across different locations.
So maps were detailed, placement easy and lastly configuration very simple. One beacon could either provide navigation or notifications (this could be changed retrospectively).
Thus, we could simultaneously set up a range of beacons with different functionality.
Some were simply there to aid in navigation, others were part of guided tours and only interacted within a shorter range to provide content and audio tours.
Delivering a cohesive intelligent beacon network does take a lot of planning but also the need for a fluidity in delivery is needed to understand what parts of the event are going to be completed and when. This is why we really try and engage with the stand holders in advance to let them know what we are doing and if possible make a feature of the Beacons. The form factor of the Aruba Beacons helped here as they were seen as a nice to have front and central.
Tear down is always a tricky one – the moment the “bell” sounds, exhibitors want to pull down their stands and get home as soon as possible, but of course you can’t take beacons down early. So you have a core window of approximately an hour to remove beacons off the core exhibitor stands.
In the end, we lost 21 out of the 747 Beacons we deployed – not a bad loss rate but something that does need to be factored into the overall cost of a deployment.
All in all, we felt it was a successful deployment and received some very positive feedback from HPE. The fact that the Beacons all worked “out of the box” and we had an excellent supporting software, meant we were able to meet the setup and tear down time constraints easily and so could focus on the quality of the network, as opposed to simply throwing up beacons. This is a very important to us in terms of the delivered solution – a real partnership. We are looking forward to our next deployment of Aruba Beacons at an event near you!
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