ExCeL London deploys Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi to improve customer experience

Smart Wi-Fi will deliver scalability and improve visitor experience for up to 14,000 visitors at a time across the 100 acre Docklands exhibition site

ExCeL London deploys Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi to improve customer experience

Ruckus Wireless is now providing Smart Wi-Fi connectivity to ExCeL London, part of ADNEC, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company.
Based in the London Docklands area, ExCeL is the capital’s largest exhibition and international conference centre with a floor space of 100,000m² and hosted 13 events during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Since then it has seen a steady stream of international trade shows such as The World Travel Market show, and this year it welcomes IP EXPO for the first time.
“As far back as 2000, ExCeL recognised that Wi-Fi would be an important part of the visitor experience and started deploying a limited wireless network,” commented Brian Cole, operations director at ExCeL London. “By 2011, with the new extension to the facility complete and the number of events and visitors growing quickly, the time came to reassess how best to deliver a great customer wireless experience.
“It had become clear that Wi-Fi for exhibitors and guests was becoming part of the core facilities critical to the delivery of a successful event, so in 2012 ExCeL started the planning for a network that would become a business critical service.”
Roger Hockaday, director of marketing, EMEA at Ruckus Wireless added: “Delivering a great user experience in public venues and open spaces like ExCeL is a technical challenge. The site consists of two halls, 800 metres long covering 100,000m² of exhibition space, the halls are 10 metres in height and the overall site can accommodate up to 68,000 visitors.
“In the case of an exhibition and conference centre like ExCeL, the number of visitors, the complexity of RF planning in an environment that changes from day-to-day - as exhibition stands are built up, used and torn down - and users who often carry multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices could easily overwhelm an ‘off-the-shelf’ network,” he finished.
“It wasn’t a difficult choice,” continued Cole. “You only had to look around at the Wi-Fi vendors chosen by other exhibition sites and talk to event organisers to see there was one vendor that consistently came out on top for user experience.
“What’s so impressive about the Ruckus deployment is that it not only provides better coverage than our previous deployments, but it does this with half the number of access points. That’s not just important when you consider the cost of buying the equipment, but also when you think about the amount of time and effort that goes into installing and running a large proportion of a 40 hectare (100 acre) site with pervasive Wi-Fi coverage.
“There’s lots of good back-end technology out there for networks; authentication, firewalling, data analysis solutions etc. but frankly, if the Wi-Fi isn’t good enough to provide a great experience for every visitor, nothing else really matters. And this is exactly what we’re getting from Ruckus’ Smart Wi-Fi,” Cole said.

The Ruckus products used include:
•    2 x Zone Director 5000 delivering a fully redundant management plane
•    ZoneFlex Management
•    88 x ZoneFlex 7762-S outdoor dual band access points
•    57 x ZoneFlex 7982 indoor dual band access points.

Speaking to Wireless at the IP Expo event at ExCel this week, Hockaday explained why Ruckus technology suits the venue. ‘Our use of active antennas is why it works so well. Our BeamFlex adaptive antenna technology can direct a signal in a particular direction, so the access point (AP) is transmitting more effectively. The AP picks you and directs the radio beam straight to you and its listens to you better as well.

‘The further you go from the access point the lower the data rate. You also have to consider the orientation of your device. A lap top has a vertical antenna with the screen up, but you generally hold an iPad flat, so we switch the antennas on the AP to give you the best throughput for your particular device. The performance of the radio and getting a good connection to the client is what matters most in Wi-Fi.’

Commenting on the potential benefits of 802.11ac Wave 2 equipment (due out in 2015) Hockaday said they come from being able to get higher data rates, but that is not the issue in the street outside for outdoor Wi-Fi deployments; there it is about providing greater coverage. It may well be a benefit in high density environments indoors.

‘A Ruckus AP will handle up to 130-150 people per AP, while most other vendors average 20-40 per AP. So, here at ExCel , we can handle a fairly high density of users. Would 802.11ac Wave 2 be beneficial here? We mostly run with 20MHz channels, as by using the smallest channels that gives the highest aggregate throughput.

‘802.11ac brings with it the opportunity to use wider channels, but the wider the channel the less power you can transmit into that channel. There is a 3db drop off in power when you go from a 20Mhz channel to a 40Mhz wide channel. So, if the power goes down, the sensitivity drops and so the data rate drops; but yes you can send more data because it is a wider channel. But what you actually want is smaller 20Mhz channels in this kind of environment at ExCel,’ said Hockaday.

802.11ac also brings the prospect of multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). ‘This goes back to antenna design issues again,’ he said. ‘It is about being able to discriminate between the AP you use and the AP someone else uses. The AP becomes a switch, so you can have multiple conversations which is great as you can support more users.

‘But you need very good antennas to discriminate between the different conversations and you need to avoid interference, so that means you need to be really good at designing antennas to make use of MU-MIMO properly,’ Hockaday argued.

It is this kind of variation in expertise among Wi-Fi vendors that makes Hockaday believe Wi-Fi is not a commodity yet, despite being built to clearly defined standards.

‘We treat it like a utility, but does that make it a commodity? I don’t think so. Ethernet cable is a commodity. With a 100m cable you can run at 100Mb per second to a device with an Ethernet port on it consistently – no contention wired is better.

‘But with Wi-Fi a different range means a totally different throughput. Wi-Fi is not like Ethernet, as depending on what you put in your product, you can make it significantly better than someone else’s. Everyone makes really good Wi-Fi APs that work very well in a particular environment,’ noted Hockaday.  

He continued: ‘Although we build to the Wi-Fi standards, we don’t use reference design. We strip out the code and build it from scratch as it were. On top of that, I would argue that we are the one vendor that is pushing heavily on cloud services.

‘It is not just about kit on site. You can buy Wi-Fi on a per monthly charge service. Scandic Hotels buys this kind of Wi-Fi as a service using APs provided by Swisscom, so they can add video and internet services for their guests across Wi-Fi,’ pointed out Hockaday.

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