GEC deploys wireless network for IDEX

Previously, issues of cost, bandwidth, performance and most recently security have left many network administrators unwilling to swap hard-wired networks for wireless technology. However, the relatively low cost and flexibility of deployment enabled the General Exhibitions Corporation (GEC) to rollout a 3Com wireless network for the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  May 29, 2001

GEC|~||~||~|Previously, issues of cost, bandwidth, performance and most recently security have left many network administrators unwilling to swap hard-wired networks for wireless technology. However, the relatively low cost and flexibility of deployment enabled the General Exhibitions Corporation (GEC) to rollout a 3Com wireless network to support exhibitors and press attending the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi.

The exhibition, held every two years, attracts a sizable contingent of international exhibitors and press to the five-day show. This year, the press room with around 50 PCs and 12 printers for the international press, and a further 10 machines for Emirates News, were hooked up to the 3Com wireless network, offering Internet connection, file/print and e-mail facilities.

“We needed a solution that was fast to implement, reasonably priced, and gave us the speed for Internet and e-mail,” says Mohammed Bakir, systems administrator, GEC.
The wireless solution, which was rolled out in two days, also offered the best long-term value to GEC. In previous years, the exhibition company had laid cables to offer network services. However, hard-wired solutions didn’t provide the necessary flexibility for GEC. “If we had laid cables, we would have thrown them away once the show had ended because we’re not sure if they are going to be useful in the future. We would have to relay cables which is another investment, for the [exhibition in two years],” says Bakir.

“When we compared the prices for normal wired connection and wireless connection we found that they were almost the same. But the benefit of having wireless is that after the exhibition finishes we will have it back in the store [to use] for other exhibitions,” he adds.

Wireless network services were also offered to some of the exhibitors, whose machines were fitted with the necessary PCMCIA cards. The exhibition organiser plans to offer further high speed network services in the future, as greater numbers of exhibitors demonstrate Internet-based products and services. “As an exhibition centre we should provide all services that are available, [and] one of those services is going to be the Internet,” says Bakir.

“[Exhibitors] cannot communicate directly with Etisalat, so they come through us. Our next exhibition is in November and most probably we will think that about providing the users with cards, because we have enough PCMCIA cards. If anybody needs connections, we will not [have to] think about cables — we will just give them wireless connections.”

However, there were some limitations to the wireless solution. Initially, the exhibition organiser had hoped to run IDEX’s registration system across the wireless network. However, after testing the solution GEC found that once the database reached around 5000 entries the performance of the network began to degrade.

“Before purchasing the solution we fully tested the registration system on the Internet. We used the wireless network with the registration system for around two weeks and when it reached 5000 records and above, we discovered [the performance] was going down. So I had to go back to the cables,” explains Bakir.

The speed of the network when running certain types of transactional applications is part of the downside of running a wireless environment. Consequently, prior to deploying wireless solutions, organisations should be aware of the applications they intend to run over the wireless environment.

Although vendors claim its possible to run as many as 60 users from each access point, GEC found that it got “great performance,” running about 10 to 15 users from each access point, notes Bakir.
With prices dropping on wireless solutions, all the time, the biggest hurdle to mainstream deployment of wireless networks remains speed. Wireless networks are based on a continuous data stream, which means network administrators have to bear in mind the size of the packet at all times.

For example, an 11 M/bit data stream contains the packet header, including the address of the packet, encryption method, the data and then the tail of the packet.
Consequently, although “it’s an 11 M/bit data stream, only four M/bit of data is transferring because you have collisions, encryption and inference,” explains Bakir.

“The main challenge [with wireless] is the speed. Today the price is marvellous, because you can pay as much for the wireless as you would pay for the cable… With cable-based networks you are limited by the locations of the users and where you have fixed the points. In wireless [users] can just go around. The only thing you have against the wireless is the speed, but if [network managers] know how to use this speed and [they] know its limitations then it’s a great solution.”
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