Ottawa Senators seek ‘hat trick’ with WiFi

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The Ottawa Senators hope to score another kind of hat trick by deploying a new wireless fidelity (WiFi) system at the hockey team’s Scotiabank Place arena in Ottawa.

The new network is expected to be a triple triumph for the Senators – enhancing the team’s Internet ticketing sales system, boosting the arena’s point-of-sales capabilities and beefing up e-mail and wireless communications.

“This project will bring much needed upgrades to our 10-year-old data, e-mail and communications network,” said Cyril Leeder, chief operating officer (COO) of the Senators.

Early this week, the Senators formally announced an agreement with Nortel Networks that will see the Brampton, Ont.-based telecommunications firm deploy a secure converged voice and data network in the arena.

The building,which opened in 1996, is owned by the Ottawa-based National Hockey League (NHL) team. The arena was originally named The Palladium but was later called the Corel Centre after software company Corel Corp. signed a 20-year deal to buy the naming rights to the building. The arena’s monicker changed again in January this year when the Ottawa Senators closed a 15-year naming agreement with the Bank of Nova Scotia.

“When we moved into this building 10 years ago, we never envisioned the volume of Internet traffic we have today,” said Leeder. “We didn’t even have e-mail back then,”

He said the previous system consisted of a series of stand alone servers hooked to desktop computers that were used for tasks such as accounting. As the years passed, more servers were added to handle phone switches, e-mail, online ticket sales and wireless communication.

“It was integrated and it worked, but not elegantly,” said Leeder.

For instance, he said, the ticketing system was afflicted by slowdowns when dealing with huge volume demands.

The arena – used for other events aside from hockey – also hosts concerts by such groups as the U2. The Irish rock group can pull in at least 80,000 e-ticket buyers and this could mean some serious delays said Leeder. “In this scenario, it’s typical for the first 500 buyers to get their transaction through. The next 500 may have to wait an additional 10 minutes, but the 500 [after that] might not get through.”

Leeder said an online traffic jam not only results in lost of ticket sales but also creates negative publicity.

Among other things, the network will eliminate bottlenecks in the team’s online ticket sales systems, said Kyle Klassen, director, enterprise wireless marketing for Nortel.

He said the system Nortel is deploying is more adept at scaling up to meet higher demands. It can also crack down on event ticket pirating by incorporating wireless ticket readers that scan for security barcodes printed on tickets.

Klassen said Nortel will deploy its wireless WLAN (wireless local area network ) 2300, Ethernet Routing Switch 8600 and 5520 and Ethernet Edge Router to provide a converged and secure network.

The WLAN 2300 is a collection of security switches, multi-mode access points and software that enables delivery of voice and multi-media applications over a wireless network.

The Ethernet Routing Switch 8600 enables connectivity for 10 gigabit Ethernet and automatic teller machines (ATM) and point-of sales (PoS) devices. The Ethernet Routing Switch 5520 supports desktop connectivity and the Ethernet Edge Router is a convergence device that allows enables virtual private network (VPN) and Internet Protocol (IP) services over a single network.

The system is expected to enable faster, clearer and more reliable wireless communication for staff and fans inside the arena.

Nortel is associated with traditional business phone systems, but has recently made forays into the unified communications space.

“The arena can do away with stationary wired point-of-sales (POS) stations and have more wireless access points that [offer] food and souvenir vendors greater flexibility in locating their stalls,” said Klassen.

The press box offers wireless service now but with the new system, journalists will be able to access more data over the Internet faster and transmissions will be more instantaneous even with a large number of people accessing the network, he added.

With the WiFi network rollout, the arena will have the potential to offer added services and entertainment to spectators and sport fans in years to come, according to Klassen and Leeder.

“In the future, we can probably hold half-time contests where fans can vote for winners by text messaging on their phones,” said Leeder.

“Perhaps, spectators fans won’t need to holler for a hot dog. They’ll have the capability of ordering and paying for food on their cell phones or PDAs,” Klassen said.

Such features however, were dismissed as trivial by a Toronto-based communications analyst.

“Let’s put things in perspective. If you’ve just put down $150 for a ticket to watch NHL players on the ice, that’s what you’ll be doing. You won’t be fiddling with your phone or PDA,” said Lawrence Surtees, vice-president, communications research, IDC Canada Ltd., Toronto.

He said a new WiFi network might make work easier for people working in the arena, but would mean little for the spectators.

“For the most part, people go to the arena to enjoy a game or watch a show, not to bring out a laptop and surf the Net.”

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