The Rise of Virtual Events and the Technologies That Power Them

How online conferences are setting new standards for collaboration, content delivery and communication

Bryson Hopkins

In-person company and industry conferences have certainly taken a hit, along with many other aspects of “doing business” that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is foundational unified communications and collaboration (UCC) and content delivery technologies already existed to make the transition from in-person to online conferences. This means that major global events such as the  2021 Consumer Electronics Show (@CES) coming up next week and SXSW 2021 (@SXSW) in March can go on…virtually.  However, that doesn’t mean that it has been a seamless move from in-person to online events. The digital infrastructure for these types of virtual venues needed to also scale their communication backbones quickly to support what is turning out to be the new reality for business conferences.

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Virtual events are exploding as is their digital infrastructures

The global virtual events market size was valued by Grand View Research at $77.98 billion in 2019 and is now expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027.[i] Some online conference companies, such as 6Connex, are actually seeing up to 1000% growth in virtual events from all aspects of their business (enterprises, sporting franchises, universities, etc.) since the pandemic started.[ii]

As virtual conference platforms experience this unprecedented growth, it puts a huge strain on existing IT infrastructures. Virtual conferences now last over multiple days, and sometimes weeks, and feature different types of online interactions (live presentations, streaming video, social media, break-out rooms, chat sessions, polls, virtual reality, etc.) to hold on to attendees’ attention. In an IDC Virtual Events Survey, published in May 2020, virtual event attendees ranked how they would like to be engaged during a virtual event. No surprise, the more interactive engagement methods, such as chatting with the speakers and participants, downloading presentations, polling and community discussions ranked the highest. It is also not surprise that these are highly digital interactions.

Source: IDC[iii]

As a result, the amount of additional bandwidth required to successfully deliver these various digital aspects of virtual events without any performance hiccups is constantly increasing. Video quality for example can make or break an event. According to the IDC survey, 61% of virtual event attendees felt video quality was that of social media or home video from a mobile device.

Source: IDC

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.[iv] And if the video streaming technology is poor or fails during a live online-conference, then you’ll probably never ꟷ  virtually ꟷ see those attendees again.

There are two types of online business events that 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 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 participants from all over the world 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 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.

Lessons learned from UCC and content providers during the pandemic

The explosive growth of remote business 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. In a webinar hosted by Kentik, we participated in a panel discussion with Dropbox, Netflix and Zoom on how network scalability and capacity are empowering businesses’ remote workforces. Leveraging redundant virtual connections to network and cloud providers via Equinix Fabric™, enabled these companies to dynamically, securely and reliably spin up or down the bandwidth required for their customers to use their services. And increasing the peering capacity among the global internet provider ecosystem on Platform Equinix® via Equinix Internet Exchange™, scaled the global capabilities of UCC platforms hosting video conferencing and content distribution networks streaming 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. This growth has mainly been driven by video conferencing, streaming, enterprise cloud connectivity and work-from-home local aggregation. In addition, Equinix Internet Exchange experienced peak traffic in Q3, up 43% year-over-year, with a 7% increase quarter-over-quarter.[v]

These interconnection services enable access to thousands of network, cloud and content providers on Platform Equinix. In addition, SD-WAN and virtual security services (i.e., VPNs, firewalls) from leading network virtualization providers can be accessed via Network Edge in minutes. Leveraging these software-defined interconnection services enables enterprises and on-line conference platform providers to successfully host virtual conferences for tens of thousands of participants per event, without a hitch.

Learn more about how you can scale your network bandwidth capacity via Equinix Fabric.


[i] Grand View Research, “Virtual Events Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Event Type,” July 2020.

[ii] Forbes, “Virtual Events Up 1000% Since COVID-19, With 52,000 On Just One Platform,” John Koetsier, May 2020.

[iii] IDC Study: Virtual Meetings and Conferences, Wayne Kurtzman, June 2020.

[iv] LiveWire, “Internet Speed Requirements for Video Streaming,” Barb Gonzalez, November 12, 2020

[v] Equinix Reports Q3 2020 Results, October 28, 2020.

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Bryson Hopkins Former Senior Director, Global Solutions Enablement
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