Here's what a convention center designed after the communications revolution looks like.
Once upon a time, Milwaukee was synonymous with beer. That's still true, up to a point: Miller Brewing is still there (with an interactive visitor center, no less), but the important names to associate with the city now are Lucent Technologies and 3Com--two important technology partners with the year-old Midwest Express Center.
Rising smack in the middle of downtown Milwaukee, the Center's 200,000 square feet of exhibition space and 70,000 square feet of meeting space are wired to the max. Lucent's contribution to the facility's connectivity is a digital PBX (private branch exchange). Because it is a digital exchange, such services as voice mail, teleconferencing, and automatic call routing can be easily customized to meet conference organizers' call center needs. There's an administrative upside to this in-house system, also: Phone line orders can be filled quickly, and billing is simplified. And, of course, the Center's technicians are intimately familiar with their own system and knowledgeable of what it can and cannot do. (One of the neat tricks possible: They can extend ISDN service to the show floor for exhibitors who want dial-up connections to the home office.) In a belt-and-suspenders approach to telecommunications service, Time Warner Telecom runs backup service into the facility. The service is on a SONET ring through the provider's central office, so even if one side of the network goes down, the other side maintains service. In a nice non-network touch, all the pay phones in the building feature card-readers and analog dataports for laptop computers.
As cool as the phone service is, the showpiece of the Midwest Express Center is its 3Com gigabit-capacity fiber and copper backbone and 100Base T fast Ethernet service. The Center offers the network either dark, for use with a conference organizer's own electronics, or with a light source using in-house service. An organization could bring its entire data network into the facility and function as though it were back at the office--an important consideration for organizers who like to bring the whole company to their meetings. The copper wiring in the network is Category 5, capable of handling gigabit speeds. For all practical purposes, this is an unlimited bandwidth system.
Along with speed, the 3Com system offers security. Virtual Isolated Networks can be created within the data network so exhibitors will know their transmissions are as safe as possible from intrusion.
What about Internet connections? No problem: The Center has a 45 megabyte connection (DS3, the data equivalent of a T3 voice line) to a local Internet Service Provider, alpha.com, inc. This ATM connection has two high-speed connections into a major Internet hub in Chicago, which means, for all practical purposes, that conference organizers and exhibitors can connect to the World Wide Web yet have the performance equivalent of a local area network. It handles the equivalent of 1,500 people dialing up at once on a 28.8 modem connection. In plain English: It's wicked fast. And, thanks to the integrated floor boxes throughout the exhibition space, all this can be accomplished without having to hide the usual mess of cable under the rug.
With so much network firepower, of course there are not one but two satellite dishes at the facility for simultaneous downlinks as well as uplinking of signals from the Center. One caveat: The Wisconsin Center District (WCD), operator of the Center, wants organizers to use its dishes exclusively, "barring major technical obstacles," as the WCD Event Manager's Sourcebook says.
There is an in-house AV company, United Visual, which also operates the business center. While the Center prefers that conference organizers deal with United, it isn't required.
The Midwest Express Center's in-house focus on technology may make some organizers queasy--is all this stuff going to be obsolete in six months? Probably the best reassurance is the attitude of the staff, from Information Technology Manager Dan Ovokaitsy on down. They know the technology of connectivity evolves quickly, and plan to keep brewing up new solutions to conference organizers' needs.