“Does Moscone have Wi-Fi?” is by far the most common question that is asked on the Moscone Center’s website. And it’s usually the first question asked by  attendees of the flagship convention and exhibition campus in San Francisco. A citywide initiative led the Moscone Center to make Wi-Fi an essential part of its convention and exhibition experience. The Moscone Center consists of three main halls spread out across 87 acres. It supports up to 74 events per year and holds up to 60,000 guests.

The Challenge

“In the exhibition and trade show industry, there are no second chances with customers,” said Jeff Hardy, network engineer, Moscone Center. “ Large events require Wi-Fi that works right the first time. As part of a citywide facelift construction project, it was decided that the Moscone Center would be fitted with Wi-Fi in each of its three buildings, across more than 2 million square feet of space.”

Thousands of people attending events in this space need to open emails, use online conference applications, and participate in interactive sessions. To provide this, the Moscone Center needed a consistent and scalable solution that would improve the attendee experience and support the needs of the convention organizers as their network evolved.

The Solution

There was no room to cut corners for Moscone. Multiple teams, including the Moscone Center technical team, worked together to select the right Wi-Fi solution for the convention center. After considering two other major suppliers, they selected the Xirrus solution for reliability, a low total cost over time, reduced cable runs, and excellent support.

Initial planning of the network began in 2011 to ensure a good design and proper execution for the installation. In 2012, 90 Xirrus access points (Aps) were deployed in the convention center. Today, there are 375 Xirrus multi-radio APs (equivalent to 800 to 1,000 two-radio APs) installed across the campus, reflecting the significant increase in demand and usage of wireless by today’s customers.

The deployment uses both indoor and outdoor, multi-radio Xirrus APs with software-defined radios to ensure the Moscone Center has the capacity advantage in their network. Additionally, there are 150 portable APs that can be rapidly deployed on tripods as needed to augment large keynote sessions. To deploy and manage devices in its network, the Moscone Center uses the XMS network management system.

The unique software-defined radios of the Xirrus solution allow the entire Wi-Fi network to be configured to run at 5 GHz for optimal performance. The Moscone technical team can add 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi coverage for convention customers that put in special requests. The aggregate throughput to the internet scales to 1.5 Gbps or more for larger events.

The Results

Immediate results include reliable Wi-Fi connections for customers and attendees, while long-term results include increased satisfaction and a network that evolves and adapts. For the average event, there are 6,000 to 7,000 Wi-Fi connections, and, for larger events, there may be more than 18,000 connections. 

Since 2012, there have been no major outages and nothing notable in terms of downtime. The combination of a consistently high-performing solution and help from the Xirrus support team makes it easy to manage the Moscone Center network.