Wireless meets rock

Until about a year ago, it was all tech, plugs and rock’n’roll for Toronto-based Todd Griffith, IT specialist for The Rolling Stones, until he realized he could drastically decrease the amount of plugs required at a concert venue by deploying wireless networks instead.

The Rolling Stones performed to an enthusiastic crowd of almost half a million people who braved the sweltering heat in Downsview Park on July 30 to help the city recover economic losses resulting from a spring outbreak of SARS. But, backstage, Griffith wasn’t consumed by stringing up cable. Instead, he strategically deployed wireless access points, gateways, wireless PC cards, and building-to-building gateways.

Griffith’s wireless network is what has made it possible for the Rolling Stones’ crew to update the rollingstones.com 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.

While the network usually supports 60 and 75 users, he said the number of users for the Toronto concert was four times that.

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

In addition, Griffith said the total cost of ownership is a lot lower with wireless, and the network rollout time is drastically reduced, now taking usually one to two hours to set up. He also said he is thrilled that his crew doesn’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 result was an 802.11b wireless network with hardware almost exclusively from 3Com Corp., consisting of wirelessly enabled notebook computers with wireless PC Cards, gateways, wireless access points and building-to-building bridges. Griffith selected 3Com because the company took an interest in this type of deployment. Bell Canada provided the Internet access.

However, Griffith’s network was unusual in that there was no traditional file server.

Even though it is difficult for Griffith to deploy full security, 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.

He also turned off the file-sharing capabilities on each notebook for security purposes.