T.O. sports venue gets unleashed with W-Fi

For Sasha Puric, the IT director responsible for Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (ACC), setting up its new Wi-Fi infrastructure was a virtual slam dunk.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.(MLSEL) which owns professional sports teams the Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and manages the Air Canada Centre (ACC) and Maple Leaf Gardens, recently implemented 90 Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) hot spots access points at the ACC, according to MLSEL’s Puric. The ACC represents one of the largest public Wi-Fi public access networks in Canada, Puric noted.

In partnership with Bell Canada, 802.11a or b device users can access the public network free of charge, with the wireless coverage field stretching approximately 600 metres.

The access points, built on the same infrastructure as its Bell Canada pay phones, allow general Wi-Fi use. Right from the instance patrons enter the building, tickets can be scanned and validated using the wireless technology. This collected data can quickly detect fraud or tally attendance, Puric said.

Using a wireless notebook or handheld device, event patrons can surf the Internet or order beverages to their seats; media personnel can wirelessly check e-mail and file stories during events, noted MLSEL’s Puric.

Puric noted the environment backbone consists of mostly a Cisco Systems solution with a Cisco management console and access control devices. It’s a relatively simple environment for the IT staff to manage, Puric said. As a result, other than doing the regular security testing, end-user support is hardly an issue.

“It’s a solution that you sort of ‘set and forget’ and hasn’t had a tremendous effort on operations.” As Wi-Fi growth and acceptance grows Puric anticipates a greater impact on IT staff.

Despite the benefits of Wi-Fi, adoption has been less than brisk. According to IDC Canada Ltd., revenues for Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes, hotels and other public places will only reach $50 million by 2005. Organizations by and large have been wary of the security implications surrounding Wi-Fi; Experts note that for widespread Wi-Fi adoption, the ability to have always there, always on secure connectivity to hot spots is key.

The challenge was getting the proper coverage within the cavernous ACC. Positioning the access points and physically laying down the fibre posed a challenge. “It’s a concrete and steel building and you don’t have many drop ceilings or many drywalls in which you can conduits to run cables,” Puric said. Another issue was the wireless security considerations. Puric was well aware of the concept of war driving (wireless network hacking) and it’s potential threat to the ACC’s network.

Wi-Fi standards and technologies seem to change quickly; it was important that the ACC stay abreast of the latest developments. Puric noted the ACC brought in an external security firm to focus specifically on wireless administration security and penetration testing. “The last thing we want to do is compromise anybody’s information or network,” Puric said.

This isn’t about the “cool” factor as the Wi-Fi value proposition for the ACC is improving customer service and “enhancing the fan experience,” Puric said.

For organizations thinking about Wi-Fi, Puric offers, “Pick a strong partner…who truly understands the implications of wireless security and wireless implementation.”

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