Rolling Stones to deploy wireless network at Toronto show

A concert on Wednesday in Toronto will be made possible in part due to wireless technologies, according to Todd Griffith, IT specialist for The Rolling Stones.

For Griffith, it was all tech, plugs and rock’n’roll until about a year ago, when he realized he could drastically decrease the amount of plugs required at a concert venue by deploying wireless networks instead of a traditional wired network.

Now Griffith isn’t consumed by stringing up cable, but by strategically deploying wireless access points, gateways, wireless PC cards, and building-to-building gateways.

For the past year, Griffith has been employed by The Rolling Stones, making it possible for the crew to update the Web site, keep in contact with their families via e-mail and enable the production crew to receive large computer aided design (CAD) drawings of each venue.

Griffith said they normally get speeds of 1.5Mbps to 3Mbps, similar to a digital subscriber line (DSL) connection.

While he usually deploys a network for between 60 and 75 users, he said the number of users for the concert on Wednesday at Downsview Park in Toronto will quadruple.

The Rolling Stones are participating in a concert to help Toronto recover from the financial setbacks caused by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Others performing at the concert include teen idol Justin Timberlake, Sam Roberts, Australian metal-heads ACDC, Rush and the Flaming Lips.

Not only did Griffith say the total cost of ownership (TCO) is a lot lower with wireless, but the network rollout time is drastically reduced, now taking usually one to two hours to set up. He also said he is thrilled that they don’t have to cart around equipment for a full-fledged network while on tour.

“Just the nature of this business, we move every two or three days,” he explained. “To pull cable and try to get traditional switches and cable in some of these venues is not only difficult, in some cases it’s impossible. The wireless basically circumvents all that.”

The Rolling Stones weren’t the first band on tour to set up a wireless network. Griffith recalled the Dave Matthews Band as one of the first and said almost every major act on tour now relies on wireless.

Griffith’s network is an 802.11b wireless network with hardware almost exclusively from 3Com Corp., consisting of wirelessly-enabled notebook computers with 3Com’s Wireless PC Cards, 3Com’s gateways, wireless access points and building-to-building bridges. He selected 3Com because the company took an interest in this type of deployment and has excellent technical support, he said. Bell Canada is providing the Internet access.

There is no traditional file server in the network and Griffith turns off the file-sharing capabilities on each notebook for security purposes.

Even though it is fairly difficult for Griffith to deploy full security because of the way the network is set up and maintained, he said he monitors the network for possible intrusions. He noted that security of the network hasn’t been a problem in the past because there isn’t a file server to hack into and because they’re moving every few days.

Wedensday will be the last show for Griffith who has worked in the entertainment industry for the past 10 years, because he’s moving on to a position as IT Director at Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ont., but he counts himself lucky to have participated in challenging wireless deployments.

“The challenge of wireless is what really drew me to this job,” he explained. “It wasn’t working with the band, it was more…putting high-speed Internet access into all these venues for people – that sounded interesting.”

For more information about the Rolling Stones visit 3Com is based in Santa Clara, Calif. and is online at