MLB's last place team, became the first to go wireless, turning to Meru Network and an 802.11n deployment throughout Washington Nationals' new ballpark. The 802.11n wireless LAN will serve be the network backbone for stadium operations, fan services and Internet access. Wi-Fi's latest power iteration provides Internet access, mobile ticket-scanning and concession point-of-sale transactions throughout 100 percent of the stadium.
As MLB's (Major League Baseball) worse team in 2008, the
Washington Nationals had little on-the-field success to brag about this season.
Off the field, however, the Nationals opened a new stadium and became the first
MLB ballpark to deploy an 802.11n wireless network throughout the 41,888-seat
stadium and its outdoor areas.
Using the latest 802.11 Wi-Fi iteration, the Nationals
gained higher throughput and range than the standard 802.11a/b/g configurations
for their network infrastructure and used the system extensively throughout the
season for everything from mobile ticket-scanning and concession point-of-sale
transactions to press box support, guest services and fan Internet connections.
"The challenge for sports facilities such as
Nationals Park, where thousands of spectators are likely to be accessing the
network simultaneously, is to handle all those users while minimizing or
eliminating contention and interference issues," Stan Schatt, vice
president and Wi-Fi research director at ABI Research, said in a statement.
"The much greater bandwidth and range of 802.11n, along with its enhanced
reliability, make it a great fit for this scenario."Meru Networks, of Sunnyvale, Calif., provided the network
for the Nationals. The Meru system uses two access point models. Approximately
175 AP311s, a dual-radio unit with one 802.11n radio and one 802.11a/b/g radio
(software-upgradable to 11n), are deployed in the stadium's indoor locations.
An additional 25 units of Meru's OAP180 Rugged Access Point are placed
outdoors.While several major vendors are now offering 802.11n
hardware and software, Bob Henley, CEO of Fusion Network Systems, a network and
infrastructure solutions provider responsible for deploying the Nationals'
wireless LAN, said Meru's "virtual cell" approach won him over. With
virtual cells, a single radio channel is automatically selected for use across
a venue, with additional channels activated only when more capacity is
required.More typically, wireless LAN systems deploy a "micro
cell" approach, which assigns different channels to adjacent network
cells, significantly raising the potential for co-channel interference."Lots of people associate wireless technology with
poor roaming and low reliability," Henley said. "Only Meru's
single-channel approach addressed our demands for pervasive coverage without
gaps or interference. In fact, after we deployed the first 49 of 200 access points,
all indoors, we literally had 100 percent coverage of the ballpark - including
the outdoor areas."Henley said the remaining access points were added for
greater user capacity. "With any other wireless vendor, we would have had
to create a complicated channel plan, constantly worrying about whether the
placement of any new access points would lead to co-channel interference,"
he added.Ticket takers at the park use lightweight hand-held
scanners that send information over the air to a remote database. Henley said
the system instantly detects ticket forgeries and allows for stadium employees
to be deployed where the ticket traffic is heavy."If 10 staffers at the north gate are working as fast
as they can, but the west gate is at a third of capacity, you just send more
people with their scanners to the north gate," Henley said. "With
turnstiles or fixed systems to move, that would have been impossible."Future plans announced by the Nationals include using the
wireless network to support "room service"-style food ordering where
fans use their mobile devices to place orders and have them delivered to their
seats. In addition, the club plans a stadium staff voice-over-Wi-Fi system for
emergency situations where the cellular phone infrastructure is flooded."We
made a decision early on that the park's wireless infrastructure would offer an
unprecedented range of applications and a fan experience that you couldn't get
anywhere else," said Jason Zachariah, the Nationals' director of
information technology. "Wireless has reached a point where it is not only
as reliable as wired networks, but there are things you can do with it that
couldn't be done at all with wired."