Habs home nets wireless network coverage through upgrade

The Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, is about to begin a wireless upgrade to score better network service for staff, vendors in the facility, media and the Habs themselves.

The Bell Centre opened in 1996 with its own small network but in the last 10 years, ad hoc network extensions, PCs and other equipment have been added, resulting in an undesirable hodge-podge, said the facility’s executive IT director, Pierre-Eric Belzile.

The Bell Centre has contracted Nortel Networks to place wireless points throughout the building to provide more comprehensive coverage. “Some sections of the building aren’t covered, even with a wired (network),” said Belzile. “We need to cover more sections of the building with Internet access or network access.”

Wireless is the natural choice for an upgrade, said Brian Cann, an account executive in Nortel’s Montreal office. It may be the only choice, since the Bell Centre wasn’t designed with a complex network infrastructure in mind.

“When the Bell Centre was built 10 years ago, it wasn’t really planned to have wired connections all over the place,” he said. “The conduits are quite full.”

The first phase will be to establish basic network operations using 802.11a wireless points. Once that is in place, the Bell Centre will focus on hooking up its food and beverage vendors to the network.

The wireless network will enable vendors to accept credit and debit transactions. Currently, they can only handle cash. All banking transactions will be secured and relayed to a server then through a banking clearing house to confirm them.

Ticket collectors at the entrance will access the network as well. The Symbol devices they use to scan tickets, which are provided by the Admission Network (the Quebec outlet for TicketMaster), are compatible with Wi-Fi.

Staff in the centre will soon be using Nortel WLAN 2211 handsets to communicate with each other wirelessly. The mobile devices connect to the Wi-Fi network, allowing employees use their phones away from their desks. “They’ll be able to walk anywhere around within the Bell centre and their local extension will follow them on their mobile handset,” said Cann.

The wireless points, overlap, providing continuous coverage, he added, which should help to avoid dropped calls or glitches in voice communications.

The network upgrade will also extend up to the press gallery, which holds up to 300 members of the media. Journalists and photographers covering Habs games will be able to use the network to upload stories and pictures, said Belzile.

Away from the Centre, Canadiens coaches, scouts and players will be able to connect to the wireless network remotely and access applications that will provide data on player stats.

Belzile said he expects the network upgrade will be completed by mid-December. At it’s fastest, it should achieve speeds of 1 to 2 Gbps, but may be only 100 Mbps on the outskirts of the network due to some limitations in the building itself.

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