At the Bell Centre in Montreal, the stands are packed. It’s the Leafs versus the Canadiens.

As the players come onto the field, the fans cheer, smartphones in hand, snapping away.  They’re documenting their attendance at what would be the start of the NHL 2015-2016 season.

Except, at this year’s opener, there’s something new in play. For the first time, fans, stadium staff and the players will have access to Wi-Fi.

As the second stadium in two weeks to announce infrastructure upgrades to provide public Wi-Fi, it seems clear that, in 2015, network access in sports centres like the Bell Centre is not just trendy.  Certainly to communication solutions provider Avaya Canada, it was an update that was expected.

“We’ve been partner to Bell Centre for over a decade,” said Walter Andri, president and managing director of the company.  “They approached up about upgrading their wireless capabilities to provide access equally to their performers, artists, athletes, and people that attend these events.”

Unlike in the case of Carousel Industries at the Ralph Wilson Stadium, which involved various suppliers, subcontractors and partners over the course of three months, Avaya was able to take a much simpler, more gradual approach, supplying the hardware (around 500 Network Access Points) and software to the Bell Centre IT team, of whom two people implemented the solutions over the course of two years.

Much of this time was spent on testing – the company said that the upgrade was first made publicly available in 2014, despite its official launch this month.  It also continues to add capacity – the Orchard Park, New York-based Ralph Wilson Stadium accounted for a theoretical 140,000 simultaneous connections (or two devices per person at a capacity of 70,000) while its its Montreal counterpart accommodates just over 21,000 people.

However, Andri assured me, the capacity as it currently stands is more than capable of handling a full house.

The new president at Avaya also noted the flexibility of the system that’s now in place. Depending on the type of event, be it a sport or a concert, Avaya’s Fabric Connect network virtualization technologies is able to drum up dedicated SSIDs, protocols, security measures, without the involvement of the company.  According to Andri, the solution is being managed entirely by the Bell Centre.

“It’s about providing real-time instant access at a concert and to performers who want dedicated wireless access with quality of coverage,” Andri said. “When you have 21,000 fans watching a reliable coverage is a challenge. We’re very proud of that.”

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