As we launch into a new decade, the meetings industry is on the cusp of transformative technology that will impact how business is conducted and how its events are planned.

Stay on top of the latest technology developments — and their potential pros and cons — by monitoring these three rising event tech trends: the 5G network, augmented reality (AR) in mobile event apps and new artificial intelligence tools.

The Rise of the 5G Network

By now, you’ve probably heard of 5G—or the fifth-generation cellular wireless network. It’s an advanced wireless technology that will offer game-changing levels of speed and reliability, and all major U.S. carriers have started to roll it out in various cities and big event spaces like stadiums and convention centers.

“Everyone is talking about the short millimeter wave band, which is just mind-blowing,” said Will Curran, chief events Einstein at Endless Events. “I can get faster internet in the air from my cell phone than from my home.”

Curran said the other benefit of 5G is that a dense gathering of people in one space can access the network and not experience delays.

“You shouldn’t see this effect where you’re at a ballgame or concert and you’re like, ‘My phone’s working great,’ and then everyone shows up and yours stops working,” he said.

For events, this could make implementing new technologies easier. Live-streaming events to virtual attendees will be simple and less glitchy; mobile event app functionalities will only get better; and experimenting with virtual reality (VR) and AR technologies will become more realistic, because of 5G’s higher data rates and reduced download delays.

Additionally, security will be stronger than public Wi-Fi networks, and the “Internet of Things” will be more connected—smart buildings and automated cars will be more reality than science fiction.

There’s no question that 5G is coming, and that it will change things in big way. But how will it affect your meetings in 2020?

While major carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have promised to expand 5G service significantly, it’s unlikely it will be everywhere, and not everyone will have 5G-compatible phones in 2020. A major player—the iPhone—has yet to produce a 5G-compatible product, which means not all of your attendees will be able to leverage the network from their smartphones yet.

Additionally, 5G will be easy to access in open areas like city centers and stadiums, but convention centers could pose some problems.

“My biggest concern is 5G has a very high frequency, and it can’t penetrate walls very well, especially in an area such as a convention center,” cautioned meetings industry tech guru Corbin Ball, of Corbin Ball & Co.

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“Many convention centers have already spent millions on updating their Wi-Fi, which they sell,” he added.

With the hype around 5G paired with the haze around the date of its realistic implementation, how should meeting planners think of 5G while they are planning large events and conventions that are a year or more out?

Joshua Grimes, of Grimes Law Offices , recommends bringing it up during the negotiation process.

“Try to guarantee you’ll be getting what’s state-of-the-art at the time, and that it’s not going to cost you an incredible markup to do it,” he said.

Take a Deep Dive Into 5G and Other 2020 Meetings Trends in This Video:

Augmented Reality in Mobile Event Apps

There has been chatter around VR and AR technologies for a few years now, but realistic applications of both in the meetings and events space is still sparse. The equipment needs alone still command a high price.

Ball thinks that VR has yet to take off at meetings and events, though virtual site inspections are in the more immediate future.

“In these next few years, every Airbnb you go to you’ll be able to click on the VR/360-degree tour and walk around the place and explore in very cool detail,” he said.  “From a planning standpoint, you can use it if you want to boost design and room diagramming.

“But onsite I think AR has much more potential; it can be a group medium,” Ball continued. “You’re layering on things in an existing space. It’s a natural application for expanded product details as you walk into an exhibit hall, look at a sign and a speaker comes to life. There are lots of opportunities.”

AR glasses still present the challenge of being expensive, which can deter their use at large conferences and conventions. Where Ball sees the technology immediately making its way into the meeting and event space is within mobile event apps.

“Mobile augmented reality apps; that’s a well-tested and standardized technology. Companies such as Core-apps are incorporating that,” he said.

COREality by Core-apps is the company’s AR service that works within its event app. From attendees’ mobile devices, they can interact with 3D models, play games, watch immersive videos and more. It’s a handy tool for exhibitors and sponsors to creatively market their products.

Artificial Intelligence Tools to Improve Event Experience

Voice recognition, facial recognition and chat bots are all artificial intelligence (AI) tools that will continue to significantly improve meetings and events.

Wordly is one such tool that is gaining steam in the events industry. A few months after Meetings Today profiled the Silicon Valley-based startup in early summer 2019, it went on to win the World Tech Watch Award at IBTM World 2019, hosted in Barcelona last November.

The product leverages voice recognition and AI to effectively break down language barriers at events by translating 15 languages without the need of equipment or personnel—translation happens in real time via an app that can be accessed on mobile and tablet devices.

Up to 2,000 people can use it at once, and Wordly plans to expand to 20,000 soon, making it a cost-effective tool for large-scale conferences and conventions.

You may have noticed facial technology already implemented in places like airports, or when you unlock your iPhone. This tech is making its way into the meetings and events industry, too. Zenus—a facial recognition software that took IBTM’s top award in 2018—completely revamps the event check-in process.

“Facial recognition is here, it’s coming and it’s being used at events and you’ll see this increasing,” Ball said. “Zenus is using facial recognition to expedite the registration process.”

Zenus claims its products speed up the check-in process at events by 2-5 times than the traditional check-in process, bringing total check-in time down to just nine seconds.

If attendees opt in to use the product, they upload a photo of themselves before the event, and then all they need to do is show up, get their face scanned and retrieve their badge printed at a kiosk.

Ball says that while facial recognition technology is bound to become more commonplace, there are still those with privacy concerns.

“Meetings are about meeting people and reaching out to do that, but some people have concerns about facial recognition and general privacy, so there’s this sub-trend out there of anonymous facial analytics,” he said.

Zenus in fact has such a product, in addition to its check-in product, that uses facial analytics at events to anonymously determine sentiment, age, gender and engagement of attendees at events. It can create heat maps from the data and provide meeting planners with an idea of how engaging sessions are without revealing anyone’s identity.

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