Wi-Fi, DAS ready for CES crowds at Las Vegas Convention Center

The crowded show floor at last year’s CES. Credit: CES

Like the Rat Pack and the Riveria, bad wireless connectivity at CES is something that should be part of ancient Las Vegas history, thanks to the relatively new DAS and Wi-Fi networks that now cover the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In December 2016, Cox Business/Hospitality Network and InSite Wireless Group finished the deployment of an $18 million neutral-host distrubuted antenna system (DAS) covering the LVCC, one that is used (and was mainly paid for) by the four top U.S. wireless carriers. Combined with a free-to-the-public Wi-Fi network in the LVCC deployed by Cox Business 3 years ago, attendees at big conventions like the yearly CES gathering should have no problem connecting their mobile devices, either via cellular or Wi-Fi, while in the sprawling LVCC.

Though it’s not a stadium, for big events like the 175,000-strong CES the LVCC can see Super Bowl-type wireless traffic numbers, not a great surprise since convention attendees may even use their devices more than sports fans on event days. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, at last year’s CES the LVCC’s Wi-Fi network saw more than 200,000 unique device connections, and carried more than 6.4 terabytes of data, numbers that the LVCVA expect to be exceeded at this year’s CES in early January 2018.

And while DAS traffic numbers have not been reported, it’s a good guess that the new network saw heavy use as well last year, finally completing the LVCVA’s goal to bring up-to-date connectivity to its main convention halls.

Big halls mean a big design challenge

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2017-18, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of the upcoming Super Bowl 52, as well as profiles of network deployments at the brand-new Little Caesars Arena and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

A DAS antenna outside the main entrance. Credit: LVCVA

Several years ago, the Wi-Fi connectivity inside the LVCC halls was a crapshoot, with an existing network of approximately 166 APs having to compete for spectrum space with thousands of phone-based Wi-Fi hotspots. According to John Fountain Jr., director of network technology for Cox Business, the network deployed by Cox ahead of the 2015 CES show has approximately 2,000 Cisco access points in and around the LVCC, with more portable APs added for temporary structures like the big tents that are set up in the parking lots.

Though the network operators still have to work around the challenge of folks who are trying to run their convention business operations off a device-based hotspot — or as Fountain calls them, “a ‘non-provided AP,’ ” with its new network capacity Cox can offer reasonably priced Wi-Fi services to booths, with separate and secure SSIDs. The good news is, since most device hotspots still operate on 2.4 GHz spectrum, it leaves the wider 5 GHz spectrum open for direct device connections.

“The vast majority of devices [for attendees] are now on 5 GHz,” said Fountain.

Like many stadiums, the physical construction of the LVCC’s halls presented a challege for Wi-Fi deployment, especially the high ceilings and the long spans between walls in the seemingly never-ending main rooms. “The halls mainly have ceiling heights between 35 and 50 feet, and for Wi-Fi anything above 35 feet is problematic,” Fountain said. Cox solved some of the issues by using Gillaroo antennas, the flat-panel devices that can help direct the Wi-Fi signals in a particular direction.

Overhead Wi-Fi antenna hanging from the ceiling. Credit: LVCVA

Fountain also said that Cox ended up having to put 80 local nodes in the LVCC ceiling areas, just to get switches close enough to APs since there sometimes weren’t enough wall spaces in rooms that are up to a quarter mile in length. The Wi-Fi network is fed by a redundant 10 Gbps fiber connection and used 40 miles of new fiber. With the costs for new wiring included, Fountain said the Wi-Fi network cost Cox $12 million to deploy.

Getting the carriers to pay for DAS

And even though the current trend of the industry is seeing the big wireless carriers seeking to spend less on DAS deployments at large venues, the LVCVA didn’t have much of a problem convincing the wireless providers to pony up. Lawrence Roney, executive director of information technology for the LVCVA, said that the carriers’ desire to maintain good coverage for their customers at big events — especially CES, where carriers often announce new services and devices — made paying for the LVCC DAS an easy sell.

With the big conventions, the LVCC “brings customers to the carriers, so I have better luck getting funding,” said Roney, who said the LVCVA didn’t pay any of the system’s $18 million cost. The new DAS, he said, has 295 antenna locations that provide the equivalent of 14 cell sites of coverage, with 44 total zones, 38 indoor and six outdoor. Cox and InSite used the CorningONE system for the DAS, and the new network also has its own new 5,500-square foot head end room with backup power and cooling systems. Launched just before last year’s CES, Roney said he “didn’t hear a peep” about bad cellular connections, the no-news-is-good-news sign that your network is performing up to expectations.

Comments

  1. Susan Moore says:

    I wasn’t surprised to see you mention the work of Lawrence Roney in your January 1, 2018 issue. Lawrence, Executive Director of Information Technology- LVCVA, has a long and distinguished professional record within the industry.

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