The Best Trade Show WiFi Alternatives

Mandy Movahhed
July 24, 2014

It's trade show season, and you're likely facing the age old question of what to do about WiFi. Outside of your typical data needs of email, web surfing, app usage and texting, you probably have some pretty compelling business reasons to have a strong WiFi connection at the show. Order management solutions like Handshake are fully functional for order writing without Internet access, but you still might need reliable WiFi for things like:

  • Automatically syncing orders that you write with your mobile order writing software
  • Sending an order confirmation email to your buyer before they leave your booth
  • Setting up a printer over a wireless network
  • General email and web usage

When debating what to do about WiFi, you are typically contemplating two options: pay for the expensive and often poorly performing WiFi network provided for by the trade show venue itself, or trying to survive going the no-connection route. If neither of those sound appealing, here are some other ideas.

The Best Alternatives to Trade Show WiFi

Option 1: Personal Mobile Hotspots

Personal hotspots are not only options for trade show scenarios, but are also ideal for travel or any other environment you may find yourself in need of Internet access. You’ll buy a small unit that connects to a cellular 3G or 4G LTE network, and enables a “cloud” of Internet connection around you that you can share with your team, as long as you’re in close proximity. Hotspots are particular to specific providers, so you should shop around and see what makes sense for you. Some of the best personal hotspot options are: The Samsung LTE Mobile HotSpot Pro – This affordable hotspot solution features fast connections, an extra long battery life, and connectivity for up to 10 devices.  Check out more information on the Samsung Website.  This is the perfect option if you travel with multiple co-workers for extended periods of time. One warning - this hotspot is run through T-Mobile, and T-Mobile has limited 4G coverage. The AT&T Mobile HotSpot MiFi Liberate – Arguably the best hotspot available through AT&T, the MiFi Liberate has a touch screen interface that makes setup and organization easy among ten devices for over 12 hours.  It also touts file sharing as a feature through their secure connection.  One downside is that the device is a bit bulkier, and doesn’t fit in a pocket.  For more info, check out the AT&T Product Page. The Verizon Ellipsis Jetpack – A small, pocket-sized WiFi option, Verizon provides access for up to 8 devices through its Jetpack.  The main selling point of this hotspot is that it’s very easy to manage usage data on the touch screen and personalize your WiFi login passwords to ensure security. Freedompop – If budget is a concern and you don’t have a ton of data needs, Freedompop is a free mobile hotspot provider (deposit required).  It lets you use 2GB of data without paying, so this should give you a bit of Internet access to pull up what you need for a last-minute online browse.

Option 2: Individual Trade Show WiFi Packages

If price isn’t an issue, companies like Trade Show Internet let you rent a 4G signal that maximizes your reach in a crowded convention center.  Trade Show Internet has rental 4G Internet kits available for $499/3 days. Trade Show Internet claims to be more reliable than a MiFi. It's specifically tested at trade shows and promises that their signal works directly with your devices without interference from other WiFi devices. You can activate up to 4 devices at once, and it only takes 2 minutes to launch and configure. In terms of the negatives - Trade Show Internet is even more expensive than paying for the normal trade show venue WiFi. And if you don't reserve your kit in advance the already steep price increases by $100. Another downside is that it's anchored on a larger device, so it limits mobility.

Option 3: Turn Your Cell Phone into a WiFi Hub

This is another fantastic option for generating Internet access on the go.  Most smart phones are capable of acting as a tethering device, which allows you to use another device (a tablet or laptop) to grab the phone's cellular Internet connection and surf the web.  The cost of your connection depends on your cell phone provider. For instance, AT&T lets you share the connection between mobile and a laptop for $20/month.  Be sure to check with your service provider about your personal rates. You should note that there are a few risks with this approach, though. One, it drains your cell phone battery, so make sure to have your charger on hand. Two, the success of this strategy is heavily dependent on the strength of your data coverage, and it’s often the case (as you likely know) that service in trade show exhibition centers is weak.

Get Connected and Focus on Selling

At the end of the day, the trade show WiFi alternative you choose really comes down to your budget and your data needs. Just get that connection nailed down, so you don’t have to worry about your network connection and can focus your energy on doing what you do best – selling.