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AmericasMart, one of the largest market and convention centers in the United States, has beefed up its infrastructure with Aruba beacon Wi-Fi technology.
The goal, according to Kimberly Rometo, vice president of digital information systems at Atlanta-based AmericasMart, was to boost the network's throughput and reliability and strengthen the security of transactions.
In addition, the Wi-Fi infrastructure is supporting the launch of a new AmericasMart application for visitors that will harness Aruba beacon technology to permit turn-by-turn navigation and potentially other features guests can use as they make their way around the massive facility.
The old Wi-Fi infrastructure had limits
AmericasMart hosts large-scale events and expositions in a 7.1 million-square-foot campus facility, spanning three buildings and dozens of trade show floors. The location plays host to 16 major trade shows each year, many focused on gifts and women's apparel.
For a long time, AmericasMart throttled bandwidth for visitors' devices in order to ensure a minimum level of service. Over time, however, robust wireless connectivity became a necessity and no longer just a convenience.
Visiting exhibitors needed to check quantity and inventory levels, or ping their home offices more reliably. Meantime, visitors were also demanding better service. Many visitors faced challenges getting around the facility and finding exhibitors -- a problem that AmericasMart sought to remedy through wayfinding software enabled by the Aruba Wi-Fi Bluetooth Low Energy beacons.
Kimberly Rometovice president of digital information systems, AmericasMart
"The guest-access piece evolved over time to be a business requirement," Rometo said. "[Visitors want to] see as many exhibitors as possible -- only three days to do it, and they're not sure where to go. That's where the Aruba beacon technology came into play."
The software development kit associated with Aruba's Meridian indoor-location software, which powers the beacons, means developers can quickly offer new services to visitors.
Vendors will also be able to use Meridian to program the beacons to beam other information to users' devices, such as the location of temporary booths or other event-located structures.
"We're a place of constant improvement. [We're planning] constant enhancements to the [visitors'] app to give users a little more data," Rometo said about the use of Meridian and the beacons. In the near future, she said AmericasMart will upgrade generic location coordinates within the buildings with the names of exhibitors and ultimately add exhibitors' logos, so they are visible on the app.
Launching the implementation
The new system was deployed in a single weekend by AmericasMart, Aruba and a third-party integrator.
Dubbed "beacon weekend," 3,000 Aruba beacons were installed, along with 935 out of 950 Aruba 300 Series 802.11ac Wave 2 access points (APs) and associated mobility controllers. The new 300 Series APs have a throughput of 1.3 Gbps and offer steering technology and multiuser multiple input, multiple output. Old Hewlett Packard Enterprise hardware was ripped out and replaced.
In addition to the new hardware, AmericasMart is using Aruba's AirWave network management and ClearPass guest and policy control software to boost network visibility, conduct heat mapping of user activity and ensure internal network access control.
Troubleshooting and future changes
According to Rometo, the implementation went without serious glitches. However, networking teams did spot a few quirks with the new Wi-Fi infrastructure within the massive convention center. Sky bridges between the three buildings initially prompted a handoff between APs, causing devices to drop signals. To overcome the problem, AmericasMart network designers set up each bridge as a single portal instead of a changeover point.
With a major home furnishings show coming up in early 2018, AmericasMart will put its new Wi-Fi infrastructure, APs, beacons and the Meridian platform to use. Based on initial performance, Rometo said she expects the new network to meet both visitors' and exhibitors' demands.
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