Scott Reeves of Ruckus Wireless: Delivering WiFi For 10,000 Delegates

I’m delighted to publish the first response from our panel of industry experts on the subject of delivering brilliant WiFi for 10,000 delegates.  (Do check the series introduction for the details).

Today’s industry expert is Scott Reeves, Technical Director, EMEA, for Ruckus Wireless.  That’s him above. Scott knows a thing or two about WiFi. He has over 15 years of sales, engineering and management experience in the high technology and networking industries. Prior to joining Ruckus he lead the Neoteris European Engineering team, taking No1 market share in SSL VPN, (now part of Juniper). Before Juniper he was the sales engineering director (EMEA) for Alteon WebSystems where he supported the development and growth of the business to a run rate of over 60 million USD per year and No1 market share. Scott’s experience includes positions with Alcatel, Nortel Networks and Madge networks.

Right then, let’s get started.  My questions are in bold.

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What’s the best way of guaranteeing brilliant, seamless WiFi service at a PR launch for 100 users?

Scott Reeves: One dual-band 802.11n access point (AP) could easily support 100 concurrent users, but to guarantee brilliant, seamless Wi-Fi, you really need to think about the bandwidth requirements for your launch.  One AP could provide anywhere between 40 and 200MB throughput to 200 concurrent users depending on the devices being used to access the network, so realistically between one and three APs should be more than enough to support any sort of PR launch for 100 users.

Now, factor that up to 10,000 or 20,000 people at a huge exhibition?  What kind of technology is needed to support that?

Scott Reeves: If you’re expecting 10,000 or even 20,000 people to attend a huge exhibition, you can also be fairly sure that not all of them will be accessing the wireless network at the same time.  If you think about the WOMAD festival that took place at the end of July, the event attracted some 40,000 visitors, but there were never more than 500 concurrent users on the Wi-Fi network, with around 2,000 unique users in total.  Traffic on the guest network never exceeded the 100MB backhaul connection.

At the WOMAD festival, we were able to guarantee reliable Wi-Fi access for both guests and organisers using 35 APs positioned at various points throughout the 350 acre site, with more near the main stage and in other densely populated areas. This meant that each AP had to support no more than 100 users at any given time – with the back-up, that it could scale to support 200 users during peak times.  Load balancing like this is key to ensuring that no single AP becomes overloaded and impacts on the user experience.  Another factor to consider is RF management – using beamforming technology, it is simple to maximise throughput from each AP and minimise the impact of interference from neighbouring devices.

What kind of technical considerations are required when you’re dealing with multi-room or huge venues like Earls Court or big, big hotels that might need connectivity on multiple floors?

Scott Reeves: When installing Wi-fi networks in multi-room or huge venues like Earls Court, the most important thing to get right is RF management. Using technology like Ruckus BeamFlex, you can make sure you’re using the RF energy as efficiently as possible, and ensure that you’re not wasting energy by transmitting it in all directions.  What’s more with a network covering multiple floors, you also need to make sure APs from neighbouring floors are not causing interference for each other. You’ll also need a controller to coordinate all the APs and ensure seamless roaming between them.

Another key consideration when building Wi-Fi networks for exhibitions at the likes of Earls Court, is being able to see, track down and mitigate any analogue noise before it has chance to cause interference and problems.

Once you’ve managed to assign and log a user on to a WiFi network, what’s the best way to assure brilliant internet connectivity?  Is it just a matter of a big, big data pipe?  The bigger the better?

Scott Reeves: The size of the pipe is obviously important when designing a Wi-Fi network, but you also need to think about air time fairness, rate limiting and traffic prioritisation.  No matter what size the pipe is, without these tools, there will always be one or two users that take up all the bandwidth, causing a detrimental knock-on effect for others on the network.  At WOMAD for example, there was a 100MB pipe, and each AP was capable of transmitting at 20MB/s. That’s 10GB potential capacity from the Wi-Fi network in total – theoretically more than the pipe can provide.  Rate limiting and air time fairness helped to ensure the throughput on the Wi-Fi network remained in line with that available on the backhaul, thereby guaranteeing brilliant internet connectivity for all.

Is there a functional limit for the amount of people that you can get connected to a single WiFi network?

Scott Reeves: There’s not really a limit to the number of people that can access a single Wi-Fi network at any given time. If you think about it, one of the most compact environments you’d find yourself in is a sports stadium and even in these types of venues, it’s just a matter of adding more APs to support the number of visitors. We’ve built networks of more than 30,000 APs that support hundreds of thousands of users.

Do you have any suggestions for a rule of thumb in terms of data consumption?  e.g. 1 user consumes 200mb WiFi internet data in a day, therefore 100 users would need 20gb bandwidth in total.  And what kind of backhaul pipe is needed for a decent service?  Does ‘fast broadband’ from the likes of BT cut it in this arena? Or should we be talking super-fast dedicated connectivity?

Scott Reeves: There’s not really a limit to the number of people that can access a single Wi-Fi network at any given time. If you think about it, one of the most compact environments you’d find yourself in is a sports stadium and even in these types of venues, it’s just a matter of adding more APs to support the number of visitors. We’ve built networks of more than 30,000 APs that support hundreds of thousands of users.

In reality, is it just too expensive to do this properly to serve, say, 5,000 or 10,000 delegates?

Scott Reeves: Not at all.  Realistically, not everyone is going to be connected all at once – we tend to find that around ten percent of users connect to a network at any given time, so the task of serving 10,000 delegates isn’t as daunting in reality as it initially sounds.

What’s more, it can actually be detrimental for venues not to invest in good Wi-Fi coverage.  In the hospitality sector in particular, the provision of flawless Wi-Fi is key to retaining old customers and attracting new ones.  The cost of installing a Wi-Fi network can soon be offset by the amount of business it helps venues to win and retain.

What are the main ‘gotchas’ that result in event organisers being harassed by frustrated users?

Scott Reeves: Users often get frustrated with Wi-Fi networks that don’t provide them with enough capacity, signal coverage or throughput.  You’ve got to strike a balance between all the components that make up a network to deliver the best service – for example, there’s no point having enough backhaul to support your needs if you don’t have enough IP addresses or Wi-Fi coverage to go around.

Bad network planning can often trip people up too – poorly positioned APs cause unnecessary amounts of RF signal noise and more often than not lead to spotty coverage.  Our new ZonePlanner tool is helping to take the guesswork out of wireless LAN design, making it easy for network managers to quickly and accurately plan, design, deploy and manage Ruckus ZoneFlex APs.

Do you have any brief case studies or examples you could share where the technology has really worked?

Scott Reeves: We recently installed a state of the art 802.11n Wireless LAN (WLAN) system at the HSH Nordbank Arena in Hamburg, which is one of the Germany’s largest stadiums with 57,000 seats.  The new network is ideally suited to provide rapid user access to Deutsche Telecom’s T-Mobile service, bypassing the 3G network altogether.

Ruckus has also provided high-performance mesh networks at the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire for the past two years.  The network supported some 40,000 festival-goers each year and also provided reliable connectivity for voice over Wi-Fi calls, chip-and-pin transactions and general internet access.

What would your equipment/service shopping list look like to deliver WiFi to 500 or 10,000 delegates?

Scott Reeves: To serve 10,000 users, you’d need a Ruckus ZoneDirector 3200 to manage around 160 dual band 11n 7363 APs – the total cost for this equipment would be in the region of 100,000 USD.  That works out at a cost of just 10 USD per user – which theoretically offers an incredibly fast time to revenue.  For example, in a large hotel where guests pay ten USD per day for Wi-Fi services, it would only take around ten weeks at just ten percent occupancy before you start seeing ROI.

Take a gaze into the future: What should we be looking for in the future to deliver this kind of connectivity?

Scott Reeves: Higher speed Wi-Fi devices are the way of the future – we’re expecting to see 450MB devices coming out within a year or so.  In a few years’ time, it will be expected for Wi-Fi to run at speeds of 1GB/s.

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Thank you for taking the time to respond, Scott.  Your answers will be of real, real help to readers — and to any event managers/venue owners hunting for the right way to do things.

If you’ve got further questions, or if you’d like to get hold of one of those Ruckus ZoneDirectors, talk to the team at Ruckus.

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