Xirrus has today (4 March 2013) announced that The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and sister venue the LG Arena have deployed Xirrus Wireless Arrays to deliver high capacity connectivity to three million annual visitors. The deployment enables the venue to provide free wireless access across its 20 interconnected halls along with multiple restaurants, bars and public spaces.
The NEC occupies a 610 acre site eight miles from Birmingham City Centre and hosts over 140 trade and consumer shows, and more than 400 live events and conferences every year.
Kathryn James, Managing Director at the NEC, said: ‘In today’s digital world NEC visitors want to stay connected with their social and business lives at all times, leading to an increased demand for wireless capacity. Our objective is to hold onto our position as the best venue in the UK and to do so we need to provide cutting edge facilities. Our customers told us that Wi-Fi was a priority if we wanted to make the NEC an even better place to visit.’
Previously, the venue had provided Wi-Fi in main public areas via The Cloud, which operated solely as an overlay service on the NEC’s own network. The NEC decided to implement their own solution based on Xirrus in order to support thousands of concurrent, heavy bandwidth users across its exhibition, conference and organiser suites. The new infrastructure optimises the Wi-Fi connections for those devices operating in the 2.4GHz range, as well as the increasing number of those operating in the 5GHz range such as the new iPhone 5.
Capacity for up to 22,000 concurrent users
To address these issues the NEC installed 155 Xirrus Wireless Arrays to provide free and ubiquitous wireless access throughout the halls, organiser offices, public areas, catering outlets and conference suites. The NEC calculated the Xirrus solution would have to provide seamless connectivity for up to 22,000 concurrent users, which was calculated by a connectivity ratio based on the venue’s maximum capacity.
‘Xirrus was the only supplier that demonstrated the ability to effectively deliver high density Wi-Fi for the exhibition industry,’ said Murray Dickson, the NEC’s Business Solutions Analyst. ‘Xirrus’ unique grouping of multiple access points within a single array was also a key differentiator along with visibility into applications on the network so we can deliver a more reliable user experience.
‘Having fewer physical units helped us to reduce resources spent on infrastructure installation, as well as support and maintenance, which can often be problematic in a venue of this scale. Additionally, Xirrus allows us to future proof our investment as its arrays are designed to support the new 802.11ac standard - if we want to upgrade, we can add or swap 802.11ac modules into existing arrays,’ he added.
Supporting events in a connected world
A major challenge faced by the exhibitions industry is persuading visitors to take time out of the working day to visit events. To continue attracting a high volume of visitors, the NEC needed to enable people on site to stay connected to their social and business circles through a fast and reliable Wi-Fi network.
Additionally, exhibitors are looking to engage with visitors through event-specific apps. Ubiquitous, high capacity Wi-Fi enables this type of engagement, allowing customers to download apps through which they can gather information and buy products.
The Wi-Fi launched at Spring Fair International (3-7 February 2013), the UK’s largest trade show, providing the NEC with a perfect opportunity to test the new service. The fair’s organisers, the i2i Group, launched a mobile app that allowed visitors to receive information on exhibits, events and product demonstrations. Moving forward it is likely that this type of application will become a common feature of events taking place at the NEC.
High density provision
Murray Dickson continued: ‘We see wireless as a key element of our customer service offering; we wanted to break the industry mould by providing a basic Wi-Fi service in all areas at no cost to visitors. The unique architecture of the Xirrus solution met our demand for capacity, providing four times the coverage and up to eight times the bandwidth and capacity of traditional access points. This is ideal for the high user density found in the exhibition and live events environment.’
Sean Larner, VP of International Sales at Xirrus, said: ‘The NEC deployment is a great example of an exhibition venue innovating to provide an unrivalled experience to visitors. The exhibitions industry is becoming ever more connected, with organisers using applications with rich functionality to enhance their offering to attendees. The digitisation of events relies on high performance wireless, as organisers engage with visitors on their mobile devices like never before. We look forward to supporting the NEC as it continues to use wireless in exciting ways to enhance the visitor experience and continue delivering world-class events.’
Rolling out an enhanced Wi-Fi experience at the NEC
During the period of Spring Fair, 19,233 devices were connected to the wireless network, with 55% of these being smartphones, 30% tablets and 15% laptops. 56% of these devices were operating on the 2.4GHz range and 44% on the 5GHz range.
Additionally, the LG Arena, sister venue to the NEC on the same site, went live with its Wi-Fi provision on 8 February and has had 3,518 devices connected to date.
‘It’s fair to say that we’re now one of the most – if not the most – diversely connected venues in the UK, especially when you consider the size of our venues and the diversity of events across the NEC and the LG Arena,’ said Andrew McManus, IT Director at the NEC. ‘Our customers are now able to connect to all of their remote services as if they are at home or in their office. Our entire site is now hyper-connected inside and out using our wireless and wired connections and our high bandwidth internet connections.’