Physical MICE activities have given way to VICE (Video Interactions, Conferences and Exhibitions), and peering connectivity is what powers them.

Attending local and international industry conferences is so yesteryear now.

However, the good news is foundational unified communications and collaboration (UCC) and content delivery technologies were already available to help businesses make the transition.

This means that major global events such as the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (@CES), local concerts and seminars can go on virtually or with hybrid participation—allowing for small group of attendees physically. 

Nonetheless, the shift from in-person to online events has not always been seamless. The digital infrastructure for these types of virtual venues requires scalable communication backbones to support what is turning out to be a new reality for business conferences.

Virtual events are exploding

The global virtual events market size was valued by Grand View Research at US$77.98bn in 2019 and it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027. For example, the fifth edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) last year reportedly attracted more than 3.5 million session views. Offering a hybrid experience, the event was able to facilitate more business and virtual meetings that were conducted through the event’s technology platform, compared to that of previous years.

As virtual conference platforms experience unprecedented growth, they put a huge strain on existing IT infrastructures. In an IDC Virtual Events Survey published in May 2020, virtual event attendees ranked how they would like to be engaged in the activities. No surprise: the more interactive engagement methods—chatting with the speakers and participants; downloading presentations; polling and community discussions—ranked the highest.

As a result, the amount of additional bandwidth required to successfully deliver the various digital aspects of virtual events without any performance hiccups is constantly increasing. Video quality, for example. can make or break an event. When you do the math, high-definition (HD) video for a large virtual event needs a huge amount of bandwidth.

Case in point, YouTube recommends that 13 Mb/s is used to stream 1080p HD content with other devices streaming on the same network. Now multiply that by thousands of virtual conference participants trying to access that same video: if the video streaming technology is poor or fails during a live online-conference, then some of those attendees may gain bad impressions of the organizers’ tech competency.

Online business events can be private or public in scope, but they both require the same IT infrastructure modernization and optimization to succeed:

  • Private corporate conferences need internal virtual private networks (VPNs) to be literally up-to-speed to securely interconnect up to thousands of distributed participants. For these types of events, network bandwidth capacity, resiliency and security are critical factors.
  • Public vendor or industry events, where there is a ‘rolling thunder’ of multiple activities over days or weeks (with global participants coming in over the public internet) have the same requirements as private corporate conferences. However, these online venues require scalable IP peering among multiple internet service providers to boost bandwidth capacity for user-created content (UCC), digital media providers and content delivery networks.

To keep private or public virtual event attendees engaged and happy, enterprises and online conference platform providers need to dynamically turn up the network, redundancy and security capabilities of their infrastructures to meet the burgeoning demand.

UCC lessons gleaned from the pandemic

The explosive growth of remote-workers over the last year has provided UCC and content providers a proving ground for scaling network bandwidth, peering and security capacity, and ensuring reliability.

According to Dropbox, Netflix and Zoom experts, network scalability and capacity are empowering businesses’ remote workforces. Virtual connections to network and cloud providers have enabled these companies to dynamically, securely and reliably spin up or down the bandwidth required for their customers to use their services.

By increasing the peering capacity among the global internet provider ecosystem, the global capabilities of UCC platforms hosting video conferencing and content distribution networks can scale the streaming of digital media to users around the world.

Today Equinix is supporting over 386,000 physical and virtual interconnections for its global customers, which includes 8,500 net interconnections added in Q3 2020 alone, mainly driven by video conferencing, streaming, enterprise cloud connectivity and work-from-home local aggregation. In addition, our Internet Exchange has experienced peak traffic in the Asia Pacific region at 44% CAGR in the last five years. 

New year, new realities 

According to our data, 70% of new value created over the next decade will be based on digitally-enabled business models. No doubt, physical business meetings and events have always been important for connections, driving business growth and economies forward. However, virtual events have proven to be a viable alternative, and events in the future are likely to incorporate effective digital experiences into physical events once the pandemic is conquered and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) make a large-scale comeback.

Therefore, 2021 will be the year of transition as we welcome the golden age of events: a mix of physical, virtual, and hybrid events. With this in mind, we expect enterprises and online conference platform providers to leverage interconnection services to access thousands of network, cloud and content providers to successfully host virtual conferences for tens of thousands of participants per event, without any hitches.