Beyond Connectivity

Sands Expo's new Wi-Fi offers far more than just Internet.

The use of smartphones and tablet computers has exploded over the past three to five years. With it, the strain on the wireless Internet infrastructure of convention centers, hotel meetings facilities, and other venues continues to grow.

The Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas is responding to that pressure by completely replacing its Wi-Fi network. The 1.2-million-square-foot convention center has some big competition in town, notably the nearly 1.7-million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center and 2.1-million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center. Increasingly, Wi-Fi quality is becoming a key factor in the Sands Expo's ability to attract business, says Justin Herrman, the facility's IT director.

"Our clients are large event producers, and their clients are their attendees and exhibitors," he says. "They need to stay cutting-edge and competitive. To do that, they need to enable sophisticated wireless applications, deliver an always-on wireless experience, provide mobile location services, and deliver any service with essentially real-time responsiveness."

To ensure it can meet these needs, the Sands Expo turned to Xirrus to replace its Wi-Fi infrastructure as part of a larger renovation project. In 2004, a year before Apple's release of the incredibly popular iPhone, Xirrus was founded to start "developing infrastructure for wireless that can scale to high-performance in high densities, and ultimately replace wired connections," says Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing for Thousand Oaks, CA-based Xirrus. "In 2004 that was down the road, and a lot of money was going in to developing the smartphones and tablets and everything else, without a lot of forward thinking with respect to the infrastructure."

Xirrus now specializes in rewiring venues where a lot of people are packed in together and using their mobile devices, such as schools, stadiums, and convention centers. Last year, temporary Xirrus Arrays were brought in for densely packed venues at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. The company's biggest selling point, Miller says, is that its array technology can provide bandwidth with a fraction of the hardware as its competitors. "What Xirrus can do with one array, a competitor requires 10, 20, or even 30 [Wi-Fi] access points to do," says Herrman.

But the Sands Expo plans to provide more than just Wi-Fi, Miller says. "What the Sands is doing that is interesting and forward-thinking is providing services on top of that," he says. The Wi-Fi system can act like an indoor version of GPS, "and you can find out where a user is located and, based on that, push specific advertising or information to him or her." This can include directions in the massive facility - essentially mapping where she is and directing her to another exhibition booth, rather than making her look up each one on a map. It can also allow organizers to push custom content tothe user when she enters a specific booth or area, as well as tracking attendees at learning sessions for professional certification credits.

It can also push location-based ads. "It can be something specific to the venue like, 'come back and buy tickets for the next [sporting] event.' It could be a coupon - a barcode or QR code - that you can scan at the refreshment stand to get food or drinks," Miller says. "That interaction is captive because the user is connecting through [the venue's] device."