Event managers often balk a convention center with an exclusive deal with a communications provider. But at Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center, exclusivity comes at a price to its provider: No matter what the client wants, BellSouth Communications/Convention Center Long Distance (it's the deregulated part of BellSouth's business, known as BellSouth/CCLD) is obliged to make it happen. "When it's show time, even if the product is being field-tested for the first time, we have to make it work," says Don Gilley, data and networking manager, BellSouth/CCLD. "We had Microsoft in here last year; they had some beta test product, the HTML coding was messed up, and even the Microsoft people couldn't make it work," he recalls. "But we made it work. We had to make it work. We can't say no."

The secret, in addition to formidable technical talent, is familiarity. Not surprisingly, BellSouth/CCLD has detailed knowledge of the BellSouth telephone company's public switched network, and similar knowledge of the in-house network (it was the original installer and maintenance contractor).

If Gilley speaks with a certain world-weariness, he's entitled. He has watched the tech industry exhibition business evolve over his years, and seen a constant increase in demand for bandwidth, speed, and interconnectivity. "I'm in my 40s, and I can remember when everything was proprietary," he says. "Nowadays ... we may link 12 or 15 booths up on a network, with each company selling different products, each one piece of a pie that is a whole solution. So it takes a flexible network system to handle that, especially in an environment where you've got to put it up and then take it down."

No Wireless Freak-Out The Center can handle quite a lot of comings and goings, with 950,000 square feet of exhibit space, 76 meeting rooms occupying 230,000 square feet, a 33,000-square-foot ballroom, and a 1,740-seat auditorium. There's a corporate conference center, too.

"People who want to use wireless connections sometimes freak out a little bit when they see that there are two main halls, one on the east side and one on the west," says Gilley. "But we can give them a 10BaseT network drop on each side so their wireless antennas will work, and that tends to blow 'em away a little bit. We don't care where you are in the building, as long as you're on the network."

The network, which operates on TCP/IP protocol and can be beefed up to 100BaseT on advance request, feeds into a high-capacity DS-3 line, equivalent to a T3. "We can link IPX, which is a Novell product, but primarily we use IP." The Center is capable of providing voice-over-IP, high-speed wide-area networks (WANs), as well as wireless connections and satellite uplink and downlink services. For what it's worth, show managers and exhibitors should know they can't get around the network. BellSouth/CCLD applies IP connection charges to any device that can see the Internet, regardless of method. So using proxies, NAT (Network Address Translation) or VPN (Virtual Private Network), to sneak past the local TCP/IP protocols won't work.

As technology moves forward, so does the GWCC. Last November, it opened a Cyber-Center where attendees can walk up and plug into the Internet. "They took their time with it, really thought about where it should be and what should be in it," says Gilley. "There are about 20 spaces for logging on."

Coming soon will be a major upgrade to the GWCC web site, www.gwcc.com. "We're going to make it really interactive," says Gilley. "Eventually you'll be able to order your network service from our site."

And when you arrive in Atlanta, you can be sure Don Gilley will be there to make it work.