For trade show exhibitors, having access to WiFi when you need to conduct business is more of a rule rather than an exception. However, obtaining that access at a trade show can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. Although you may feel as though you have no choice but to pay, with a little research and know-how, you can find a free or low-cost workaround.

1. Create a Mobile Hotspot

Most smartphones are equipped with a mobile hotspot that’s already built into the phone’s settings. (Go to “Settings” and look for “Personal Hotspot.”) Once activated, this will allow your phone to serve as its own secure WiFi network, so that you can to connect to the Internet anytime, anywhere (so long as your smartphone is nearby) within about 30 feet. You can create your own connection on multiple devices (check with your mobile carrier for details).
A mobile hotspot icon will appear on your phone when the hotspot is enabled. Although this is oftentimes a lower-cost option as compared to paying WiFi fees to the event organizer, it isn’t free. Using your device as a mobile hotspot does use up your data. It all depends on your mobile service plan. You could consider increasing your data plan for the show days, if allowed.
Also, remember not to disconnect your mobile hotspot’s password, as this will allow anyone to use your connection (and your data) and possibly even hack into your network without you being the wiser. And, finally, when you’re done using the hotspot, make sure you turn it off so you don’t drain your data and run up your mobile fees.

2. Create a Hotspot on Your Laptop

Similar to turning your smartphone into a WiFi hotspot, you can also avoid trade show WiFi fees by creating a hotspot on your PC laptop. Software such as Connectify Hotspot allows you to do this.
You will have to download and install the software to your laptop or PC, then name your hotspot and give it a password. Once you’ve gone through the installation and setup, select “Start Hotspot” to share the connection. Then you’ll be able to connect to the Internet from your smartphone, tablet, e-reader, etc. With these types of programs, you are often able to choose to block ads, share your connection, and bypass device restrictions.
If you are a Mac user, you can also turn your laptop into a personal hotspot by enabling that feature already embedded on newer model computers. This works best if your Mac is tethered to an Ethernet connection, but your devices do not have to be tethered. (Think of your laptop in this instance as a router.) The hotspot WiFi option is part of the “Internet Sharing” feature in your operating system. Go to “System Preferences” and search for it there. Once you’ve selected it, you can then choose the “Sharing” icon to start up your hotspot.
Remember not to disable your password and to turn off the hotspot when not in use. Another thing to note is when using your Mac as a hotspot, you cannot be connected to a WiFi network and also host a network — you have to choose one or the other.

3. Use Free WiFi

Many event spaces offer free WiFi for trade show exhibitors. However, this comes with the caveat that the WiFi might not be free at all times, or it might not offer enough bandwidth to supply the entire show. So while you might be able to access this while the show is going on to check your email, it might not work well for you if you have a presentation to give or if your exhibit features a self-serve tablet kiosk or some other device that requires constant Internet connectivity.
Use the free WiFi if you can and if it works for your needs, but always be ready with a backup just in case.

4. Purchase a Hotspot Device

If you don’t want to use your phone or laptop as a hotspot, you have the option to purchase a separate hotspot device that will act as your own personal hotspot. These devices will use a nearby cellular network and then harness the connection to be shared with other WiFi devices. It’s like a personal router that can be taken anywhere you go and can be more reliable than the free WiFi offered by the exhibit hall.
One thing to note, the device’s strength will be the same as the wireless signal to which it is connected. So if you are experiencing signal issues inside your space, odds are you will have the same signal issues with your personal hotspot.
Whether you choose to bring your own WiFi or test your luck with what’s available to you at the show venue, it’s always a good idea to know your options and to come prepared. Having a backup can be a literal show-saver.

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