Metro Toronto Convention Centre goes wireless

TORONTO (01/08/2004) - In an effort to yield to the demands of conference planners and participants that are seldom without their laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs), the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) unveiled its new wireless local area network (WLAN) on Tuesday to give its clients and staff the functionality they were looking for.

The conference venue chose a large scale solution based on a routed Internet protocol (IP) architecture, which will allow the MTCC to provide continuous wireless services to over 1,000 mobile users simultaneously.

All on a single antenna infrastructure, this wireless network will enable the MTCC to provide its clients with the Internet access and networking capabilities they need, as well as eventually giving its staff access to its corporate network and wireless portable phone system, explained Chris Taylor, telecommunications manager for the MTCC.

Taylor said that although there have been other convention centers that have implemented WLAN technology before the MTCC, the Toronto center wanted to stay off the wireless bandwagon until it was sure the technology was stable.

"We didn't want something that wasn't going to be able to be used in a couple of years....So, with the standards and the industry finally maturing and the end products being out there, it was time to bring the infrastructure in," Taylor noted.

Bill McDonald, director of technology services for the MTCC, agreed that the birth of standards in wireless communication "drove our timing more than anything else," and added that wireless allows the MTCC to provide "that much more flexibility to the events that come into this building and to the people who attend."

To cover its enormous two million square feet of space, which spans six city blocks, the convention center worked with the Mississauga, Ont.-based product operations division of Chantry Networks Inc., which had designed a WLAN specifically for large convention center use.

Chantry Networks, which is headquartered in Waltham, Mass., implemented its BeaconWorks IP-routed architecture at the MTCC which, according to the company, means that the convention center won't have to install new switches in each wiring distribution closet across the location. The MTCC can have separate network accessibility for exhibitors, conference goers and staff all over one physical network.

Taylor said the MTCC choose a routed wireless network over the more commonly used but less easily scalable switching solution because he felt it was the next generation in wireless technology, adding that the initial technologies to come out of wireless vendors weren't good for large areas.

"They were good for a small area because they were independent units. We have a very, very big building and I couldn't have independent units strung out, it would be too hard to manage. The routed wireless architecture allows the whole system to work as one but over a very large area," Taylor explained. "At the same time it's a very easy system to expand and install, (and) the main router, because it's intelligent, (it) helps all the pieces to fit together quickly and easily."

For others planning to implement a similar WLAN within their organizations, Taylor advised them to do their homework and get familiar with the different products available on the market. He added that Chantry Networks' BeaconWorks technology did in one product what many other vendors he had researched did by bundling two or three products together.

Other new technology advancements to be introduced at the MTCC this year include hotspot deployment outside of the exhibit halls for convention attendees and Internet kiosks for conference center visitors without their own wirelessly-enabled laptop or PDA.

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