"You won't see a satellite dish on top of our building," says Tom Smith, vice president of facilities at the Las Vegas Convention Center. "Who knows whether that technology will be around in two years? It's cheaper and easier to rent one from a local TV station." Smith has no interest in playing technology catch-up, and no need, either. That's because, as Smith explains, the 1.9-million-square-foot facility has decided, in return for door-to-floor exclusivity, to turn to an outside firm for all its connectivity needs. "We don't worry about having the latest and greatest," says Smith. "We pay them to worry about it."
"Them" is Smart City Networks Inc. Formed in 1984 as US Telcom, Las Vegas-based SCN specializes in providing Internet, networking, and other connectivity services to convention centers and now hotels. Having installed more than 10,000 trade shows and events since 1984, SCN has pretty much seen it all, according to Scott Frost, vice president, sales and marketing, Smart City Networks.
The Last Hundred Feet "It's the last hundred feet that trip up any," he says. "Getting bandwidth to the building is one thing; getting it to the show floor is another."
This year, for the National Association of Broadcasters, SCN had 14 DS-3s (each equivalent to a T-3 line, except dedicated to data transmission) going to the floor. "There was more bandwidth going into the facility than most small countries have," jokes Frost.
SCN gets its name from its intention to create infinitely flexible networks in convention centers, so the buildings become "smart cities" capable of supporting any level of connectivity a customer might need, from ISDN or DSL to shared Ethernet services, dedicated Ethernet services, even private fiber networks. For SCN, that begins with offering not just fiber, but both multi-mode and single-mode fiber--more than 80,000 feet of it in the Las Vegas facility.
The real value-added service for show organizers and exhibitors is that there is a single point of contact for all these different kinds of connectivity services, Frost claims. "Otherwise you have to call the phone company, the Internet service provider,with an electrical contractor to get the service to the floor. With us it's one phone call."
Not That Exclusive Despite the exclusive arrangement with Las Vegas, Frost says exhibitors don't balk at it, because SCN is exclusive only from the door to the floor.
"We extend other people's circuits," he says. "The DS-3s I mentioned weren't ours; they were from ATT, Sprint, Worldcom." SCN's job, he says, is to have the right equipment to take the circuit from where the phone company brings it to the building to the floor.
Private Shows, Wireless According to Frost, the latest thing in large conference event management is requests for 10 megabit links between the exhibitor's server at its booth and the hotel, for a private software demo in the hotel suite. "That way, they've got one trade show for the general public, another back in the hotel," he says. "For instance, Seagate will take over three-quarters of the Four Seasons Hotel during this year's Comdex. They'll have a dedicated fiber link from the hotel to the convention center. Then they'll have an invitation-only Seagate pavilion at the Four Seasons as well as a virtual private network technology link to their network back at the home office."
Another new trend is connecting servers at exhibitor booths to hard-to-reach places. "We've installed a 2.4 gigahertz wireless local area network in addition to the fiber network in Las Vegas," he says. "We've used that to get connectivity to the parking lot or to special events outside the building. If you're in the grand concourse and can't have a big Category 5 phone cable running across the floor, we can still provide high-speed connectivity."
As for the future, Frost says the events industry is just scratching the surface. "As more of these technologies become standard, show organizers will become less tentative about asking for creativity in connectivity. We're asking our customers to be creative--to challenge us."
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