Alastair Williamson, CEO at Wyld Networks explains how new mobile mesh technology and the use of virtual geozones can help events and entertainment venues to re-open
Even before the latest national lockdown was announced, the stark message from the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), Association of Event Venues (AEV) and Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA), is that the industry is heading for ‘free fall’ without more support. Meanwhile, a study from strategic consultancy AMR International has estimated that the global exhibitions market is set to contract by a colossal 70% in 2020. This contrasts with a boom in 2019 that saw approximately 32,000 exhibitions, featuring 4.5 million exhibiting companies and attracting over 303 million visitors.
In theatreland, the first three months of lockdown saw more than £303 million in box office revenues lost across the country. However, the total loss is expected to be at least double this because they are so heavily reliant on income from ticket sales, as well as secondary income from their bars and restaurants, event hire fees and theatre rental. The UK’s thriving festival and live events sector has also been particularly badly hit, with The Association of Independent Festivals reporting that 92% of its members could face permanent collapse.
According to an Arts Council report last year, the arts and culture industry directly contributed £10.8 billion to the UK economy in the previous 12 months, generated £2.8 billion to the Treasury via taxation and created 363,700 jobs. So, there is a lot to fight for and that makes it vital to explore strategies and technologies that could help get audiences back and accelerate the recovery.
Social distancing and geozones
Despite the eventual introduction of the national track and trace app, problems still exist and the technology does not address all the challenges of running safe venues. That’s where new mobile mesh technology could offer a solution to help ensure social distancing and provide better location-aware alerts and safety information, while making it possible to create virtual geozones for managing access to indoor venues and outdoor sites.
A mobile mesh harnesses the power of peoples’ mobile devices by connecting smartphones directly to other smartphones and other internet connected devices without the need for cellular 4G/5G or Wi-Fi. This is particularly useful in more remote locations or where there are connectivity challenges. Data simply finds the quickest and easiest route by hopping between phones, powered by existing or new branded mobile apps, which all staff, performers, visitors and audience members would be required to download.
Each smartphone can connect with up to six other devices within range and each of those six other devices can connect to up to another six devices, and so on; creating a mass expansive, robust and self-healing resilient mesh network through multi-hop routing. This means that event managers can send real-time messages and notifications to everyone to provide up to date advice and guidance and to remind people to wear face masks as well as use sanitiser and, if needed, other protections.
One of the other key innovations around mobile mesh technology is the ability to create virtual geozones around complete venues, sites or buildings and any restricted areas. And by creating personal one or two metre geozones around individuals – or more specifically their smartphones – this opens up a wide range of applications, previously not possible.
As well as providing digital access management, the analysis of data and the use of graphical ‘heat maps’ provide visualisation of patterns of movement on-site that can be used to make informed decisions on routing, work practices and social distancing, to avoid unintentional close contact. And by integrating a mesh network of smartphones and connected devices, administrators can better manage and understand the effectiveness of practical measures such as hand washing and sanitising.
Individuals can get automatic alerts if they are breaking social distancing rules. And critically, dependent on policy and privacy laws, if anyone develops COVID-19 symptoms or is tested positive, the system can be used to notify those who have been in close contact so they can self-isolate or get tested. Data security and privacy are paramount, so importantly, all data is fully anonymised and only smartphones with the app installed that are inside the venue geozone are meshed together. As the smartphone leaves the geozone, it is automatically disconnected.
The mesh technology was originally designed for major sporting events, music festivals and other events to provide connectivity and deliver personalised, location-aware information. This means that it can also help to deliver new revenue streams through the sale of merchandising, hospitality and tickets. After all, the industry needs all the help it can get through new technologies.