MTCC adds phones to its Wi-Fi strategy

Expanding on the wireless initiative it set in motion last year, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) announced earlier this month that it has added Wi-Fi-based wireless telephones to its technology platform.

The convention centre business is a challenging one from a communications point of view in that the people that use it, unlike a standard office building, vary constantly and how they use the network changes constantly, explained Bill McDonald, director of technology services at the MTCC.

Phase one of the convention centre’s wireless plan was completed in January of this year with the deployment of a wireless local area network (WLAN). The MTCC worked with the Mississauga, Ont.-based product operations division of Chantry Networks Inc. at the time to design a WLAN specifically for large convention centre use.

Chantry used its BeaconWorks IP-routed architecture to cover the MTCC’s enormous two million feet of space, which spans six city blocks. The second phase of the centre’s wireless plan, which it is currently in, is to use the network for voice over IP, primarily for its staff and for some of the visiting show managers.

The MTCC chose the NetLink i640 handsets that were recently introduced to the marketplace by wireless telephone services provider SpectraLink Corp. One of the main advantages to using IP phones over traditional cell phones is that by tapping into the MTCC’s pre-existing WLAN, “we are not paying cell time,” McDonald noted.

Fundamentally the NetLink i640 is a wireless telephone explained Ben Guderian, director of market strategies for SpectraLink in Bolder, Col. “It’s cordless in the sense that obviously it has no wires but also it ties back into their telephone switch so it is not on a separate network like a cell phone would be,” Guderian said.

The phones work over the Wi-Fi wireless network, which means that users have the ability to walk around with the devices. “If you go out of one radio transceiver or access point you will walk into the range of another one,” he noted. He added that these phones “bridge the gap” between traditional cordless handsets, which are usually limited in the size of an area that can be covered because there is only one transceiver and cellular phones.

“You have integration with the telephone switch, you don’t have to pay for air time [and] people can have the same 10 numbers that they would have on their desk extension,” he added.

The Wi-Fi based telephones made it possible for employees of the MTCC to get what they really wanted form wireless technology, Guderian explained. Mainly the ability to stay in touch when away from the office or desk phone and to be able to make outside calls accessible to anybody. “That’s one of the reasons that a walkie-talkie wouldn’t work,” he added.

For the most part the IP phones will be used by MTCC staff but eventually the plan is to have a segment of the handsets made available to visiting show managers that have to keep in touch with the MTCC’s staff as well as their own, the MTCC’s McDonald explained.

Because the convention centre already had its WLAN in place, deploying the phones didn’t take long, about two days according to Guderian, but there was more to it then just setting up the handsets.

The MTCC needed to put in gateways to tie in back to their private branch exchange (PBX). “We have these devices that do the conversion from the telephone signaling that is use to go to a traditional telephone set into a voice over IP to be carried over the Wi-Fi network,” Guderian explained. Once the network and gateways are in place, the only thing left is making sure that there is sufficient coverage for the handsets. That’s what Chantry took care of in terms of deploying the wireless LAN part of it, Guderian added.

When deciding to implement a solution similar to the MTCC’s, Guderian noted a few key points for companies to consider before emptying their wallets. For starters he said that SpectraLink likes to make sure that companies have an understanding of what they are getting into in terms of making sure they have good coverage over the whole facility.

One of the things that comes up with similar implementations to the MTCC’s is that companies put in a wireless LAN to support users with laptop computers or PDAs and the expectation is that those users are only going to use those devices in certain areas while sitting, Guderian said.

“Whereas a wireless telephone is being used everywhere including stairways and back hallways and all sorts of places where you might not think about providing coverage if you are only thinking about putting in the wireless LAN to support laptop devices for example.”

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