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Meru wireless supports a gigabit worth of users, devices at the GWCC

The Georgia World Congress Center has upgraded to 802.11ac Meru wireless technology to support thousands of attendees, exhibitors and mobile devices.

When a venue regularly hosts some of the largest trade shows and events in the country, with thousands of concurrent attendees armed with wireless devices, a high-performing wireless environment isn't a luxury -- it's a necessity.

The Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta deployed 802.11ac Meru wireless technology throughout its 3.9 million square-foot facility. The new wireless LAN supports higher densities of users, mobile devices, and voice and video traffic at peak times during events.

"In our facility, it's critical that we have the latest and greatest technology and the upmost levels of availability for the large companies and guests that come in," said Mark Zimmerman, general manager of the GWCC. "It just needs to work … and work at a high level, or we're going to hear about it."

Meru wireless technology supports fluctuating connectivity needs

The GWCC's wireless needs are constantly changing. The venue has open areas across multiple floors, with three adjacent buildings containing 12 exhibit halls, 105 meeting rooms and two ballrooms, as well as a FedEx Kinko's office, multiple Starbucks coffee shops, a gift shop, food court and standalone restaurant -- all requiring strong Wi-Fi connectivity before, during and after events.

The GWCC was previously outfitted with 802.11n Ruckus wireless technology, but in planning to host one of the GWCC's largest conferences of the year -- the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) -- CCLD Networks, an IT service provider that acts as the in-house IT staff for the GWCC, knew the venue's legacy infrastructure wasn't going to be able to handle the Wi-Fi demands of the show, said Jim Jenkins, CCLD's administration director.

The number of attendees, mobile devices and interactive sessions has grown each year during the ISTE show. "We knew that the system we had in place with Ruckus wasn't really capable of handling that many users and couldn't support that much bandwidth at one time," Jenkins said. CCLD upgraded the GWCC's wired network with Cisco and -- after evaluating Wi-Fi vendors -- selected Meru wireless 802.11ac technology. It replaced the facility's entire 802.11n network with Meru AP832 802.11ac-enabled access points.

802.11ac wireless technology meets the needs of the GWCC

The new Meru wireless network couldn't have come at a better time. Even with a robust 802.11ac network, the ISTE show almost reached the limits of the Wi-Fi, Jenkins said.

The upgraded wireless network supported 13,650 simultaneous connections during peak times during the ISTE show, up from 7,000 simultaneous connections during last year's show. There were as many as 1,200 devices connecting in a single room at one time, and about 115 users on each Meru access point, up from about 50 users that each legacy access point had been able to support. "Presenters can't have their videos go in and out, but with Meru we didn't have any issues. Attendees could also do everything they wanted to do, including stream live video, and there were no hiccups," he said.

Faced with thousands of potential concurrent users, as well as coverage interference factors -- like the many private Wi-Fi networks used by exhibitors -- CCLD determined that Meru's unique ability to manage traffic through channel layering would help increase network capacity and expand coverage. "Channels aren't getting filled because there aren't just three available wireless channels," he said. "Everyone can get on, and stay on."

The new network is managed in-house by CCLD, which uses Meru E(z)RF Network Manager for centralized network visibility and control.  IT can use the RF Network Manager to create as many wireless networks as needed, in the case of trade show exhibitors needing connectivity for their booths. "Some days, we have a show with 20,000 to 30,000 attendees, while other days, it's more quiet. We are constantly putting up networks and taking them down," he said. Jenkins and his team appreciate the improved reporting capabilities, too, he said. "We can see all the different devices [joining the network] and what frequency they are connecting to."

The vendors within the GWCC will also get their own networks, Jenkins said. "We use the [Meru wireless network] internally, too, and [soon] the food vendors will able to set up their terminals remotely, wherever they need to [inside the GWCC]."

CCLD plans to stay ahead of the game at GWCC.  "We host huge events and it can be a challenge. There's always new technology coming out, so we need to stay on the cutting edge -- once these shows are here, we don't have time to try to change things out," Jenkins said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writerand follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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