Exhibition hall operator EC&O Venues has selected Ruckus Wireless Smart Wi-Fi products and technology for its London premiere event venues: Earls Court and Olympia exhibition halls.
With more than 2.2 million visitors every year, Earls Court and Olympia are the first large-scale public venues in the UK to move to higher speed, dual-band (2.4 and 5 GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi technology capable of supporting speeds of up to 600 Mbps.
Now operational in both venues, the Ruckus ZoneFlex Wi-Fi system was installed to address reliability, performance and scalability problems of its legacy Wi-Fi system, as well as the need to provide mobile data offload from increasingly congested cellular networks.
The new Wi-Fi system uses 35% fewer access points (APs) while delivering extended coverage and eight to ten times the performance over EC&O’s previous Wi-Fi system. In comparative speed testing of both systems during a live exhibition, EC&O found the previous WLAN to deliver 0.2 Mbps of uplink and downlink performance compared to 16 Mbps of uplink and downlink throughput using the Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi system.
‘Providing world-class Wi-Fi within a large public venue is one of the most difficult things to do and a well known problem that everyone has experienced,’ said Graham Gee, IT director for EC&O Venues.
‘Wi-Fi used to be all about providing pervasive wireless signal everywhere,’ he continued. ‘Now it’s all about capacity and reliability. Our existing system just wasn’t able to cope with the volume of devices within our venues or adequately deal with wireless ambiguities such as RF interference. Obviously this becomes a major problem when exhibitors and delegates are paying for connectivity.’
The new Smart Wi-Fi system is based on patented adaptive array technology that automatically selects the fastest signal path for every transmission while automatically avoiding sources of interference and obstacles that would otherwise degrade user performance. This allows the Wi-Fi service to dynamically adapt to environmental changes, avoid RF noise and support large numbers of concurrent users. Previously, to support large numbers of simultaneous users, EC&O had to continually add and adjust APs thereby causing the network to self-interfere (co-channel interference).
At a recent mortgage show, equipment from exhibitors was brought into one of the venues that caused severe RF interference. EC&O spent two days isolating this problem. ‘We can’t control what interference finds its way into our venues – and this has been a big problem,’ said Andy Lang, network manager at EC&O Venues. ‘But now, with an adaptive Wi-Fi system that can automatically mitigate interference, this is a thing of the past.’
According to EC&O, the key to dealing with high-density environments laden with interference is to combine advanced technologies working together within a unified system, such as adaptive antenna switching, predictive channel selection, band steering, airtime fairness, and client load balancing.
‘Ruckus was the only Wi-Fi supplier we found that had all of these technologies working in concert,’ said Lang. ‘But more important, they’ve really focused on the wireless connection to the client. Other solutions basically provided fancy wireless LAN management features after the users would connect through, what we found to be, largely vanilla reference design Wi-Fi APs.’
Wireless reliability was also a major problem in the past for EC&O. It was a common occurrence to provide exhibitors that had paid for wireless connectivity with a wired Ethernet connection to their stands in the event that the Wi-Fi was unstable. ‘Nine times out of ten we had to run a backup Ethernet cable and place a dedicated AP on the stands that had contracted for Wi-Fi. With Ruckus, we haven’t done this once,’ said Lang.
The Ruckus system uses patented technology that was conceived and developed to mitigate the erratic behavior of wireless connections to support streaming multimedia such as high-definition IP-based video.
Another pain point for EC&O was the administrative complexity of making changes to the legacy Wi-Fi system. It would routinely take up to 20 minutes to simply add a new virtual wireless network (SSID) or enable a specific Wi-Fi feature, such as bandwidth thresholds per user, and have these settings propagate throughout the entire wireless LAN. With the new Smart Wi-Fi system that time has been cut to 90 seconds.
Through its solutions partner, React Technologies, EC&O has now deployed Ruckus ZoneFlex 7363 dual-band 802.11n APs throughout both exhibition halls as well as redundant ZoneDirector 3000s WLAN controllers for high availability. Two-gigabit broadband connections feed each facility with four dark fibre interconnecting both venues.
Beyond providing wireless internet access, the Smart Wi-Fi network can be used to support point-of-sale (PDQ) devices, wireless VoIP handsets, 3G offload services and ultimately IP-based streaming video. EC&O is finding a growing need to use Wi-Fi for helping visitors connect to IP-based data services when local cellular 3G data services are overloaded, slow or simply unavailable.
‘With a stable and robust wireless infrastructure in place, it allows us to really think about all the different services that can be offered and enabled over the network,’ said Gee. ‘This includes value-added services to exhibitors and attendees as well as internal services that optimise the operation of our venues. Given that, by definition, our environment is large and mobile, industrial-strength Wi-Fi was no longer an option – it was an imperative.’