Who's got what in the race to provide connectivity.

Medical conference organizers defer to no one in their need for computers and connectivity. We talked to meeting planners, medical show organizers, and tech industry experts from around the country about their experiences in getting the technical support they need. Sometimes, as in the case of the Radiological Society of North America, it's the meeting planners who do the installation work. Here's what your peers have to say about the wonderful world of network drops and high-capacity phone service, along with highlights from tech-savvy centers. For hot links to centers and CVBs, visit our Web site at www.meetingsnet.com.

New York: Easy Connections Roger White needs a fair amount of connectivity for his co-located shows, Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) East Conference & Expo and Atlantic Design Engineering Show, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center of New York. "Some of our exhibitors use ISDN lines for real-time relays to their offices to process orders right on the show floor through their PCs," says White, operations manager, Trade Show Division, for the event

organizer, Canon Communications, Los Angeles, Calif. "We also have high-tech pavilions for medical packaging, medical electronics, and medical equipment networking."

Getting connected at Javits has become a lot easier, says White. "Everything used to run through the Javits itself. Now, all telecom is subcontracted to PCS World. Standard modems, ISDN lines, LAN, T1s--they offer it all."

Kevin O'Keefe, Canon's sales manager, trade shows, also sees improvements. "Four or five years ago, getting telephone hookups was a nightmare," he says. Today, "High-end exhibitors selling CAD software, for example, can easily access phone lines for Internet and intranet."

All that helps exhibitors. What show managers appreciate is Javits's wireless service. "It's a treat for us as show management to carry wireless phones," says White.

"Over the last five years, [the Javits has] made an effort to upgrade," says Mark Dineen, group operations director for show organizer Miller Freeman Inc.'s Business Technology Group. "They've done a good job, putting in ISDN wiring, bringing in a phone company, satellite capability, wireless phone capability." Besides renting wireless phones, Javits offers exhibitors a portable wireless unit that transmits data up to 64 Kbps, plus "wireless LAN" that can go from 64 Kbps to 2 Mbps. Says Dineen, "They're looking at what's needed to make it a tech-friendly, technologically correct building."

Chicago: RSNA Leads the Way Prodding and funding by the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), Oak Brook, Ill., was key to upgrading connectivity at McCormick Place.

Steve Drew, RSNA's assistant director, Scientific Assembly and Infor- matics, explains that when the DICOM medical imaging standard, which allows images to be transported and interpreted on any com- puter, was developed some 10 years ago, "Our exhibitors who manufacture MRIs, CTs, and ultrasound equipment needed to demonstrate that they could send and receive DICOM." But McCormick lacked the bandwidth. "RSNA funded the installation of a fiber-optic backbone in 1992 and 1993," says Drew. "Once that was done, we ran cable to the exhibit floor, allowing a distributed dem-onstration among 40 exhibitors."

Because exhibitors are so dependent on a working network, RSNA does something unusual. "All the electronics switches and hubs are loaned to us by the manufacturers," says Drew. "We configure and pre-stage prior to the meeting. Then we take that to McCormick and plug it into the fiber-optic backbone."

RSNA consumes connectivity. It has some 1,500 active nodes during its week-long annual meeting at McCormick, including 200 messaging terminals for attendees. For exhibitors, "We make available 10BaseT, 100BaseT, ATM-OC3, and FDDI," says Drew. In today's McCormick Place, however, that's easy. "Exhibitors order this just as they would electricity or a phone line."

Drew notes that "McCormick has done a good job of retrofitting." Still, he has his wish list. "It would be helpful if they could contract for high-speed Internet connectivity. For T3, we have to use an outside Internet Service Provider." Stay tuned.

Philadelphia: Kiosk Magic "I'd never been offered that before," says Cordie Miller, director of meetings for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), Berkeley, Calif., speaking of the e-mail kiosks available in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where ISMRM held its 7th Scientific Meeting & Exhibition last May. The center has a tech services department that "specializes in connectivity," says Miller. "There's a flat price per kiosk, including a T1 line. Kiosks are totally mobile; they can be hooked up anywhere in the building. The tech services department monitors them, and they accept responsibility for any theft."

As if that weren't enough, the opening screen can be tailored to a specific event, and a show's or company's Web site can be put up. In addition, for ISMRM, "They put our CD-ROM into the CPU," says Miller. "I normally have to rent kiosks, get an Internet Service Provider, and arrange for the T1 line," she continues. "But in Philadelphia, I paid a flat price and the kiosks magically appeared and were magically taken care of. It was fantastic."

"From a technical standpoint, the services the center provides all are top notch," says Terry Slingsby, technical production manager for design software company Autodesk. That was his assessment after the Autodesk Design World conference and exhibition was held at the Philadelphia facility last September. There was only one thing missing. "The convention center has category 3 cable. The server was at one end of the hall, and our four 40-person, hands-on computer labs were at the other end, so we had some problems. But they're wiring it with category 5 now," Slingsby says.

San Francisco: Planning Ahead There are computers everywhere you look at the American Association of Family Physicians' (AAFP) Annual Scientific Assembly. At the Moscone Convention Center last fall, there were several hundred. "We have general computer classes where we teach the basics of e-mail, PowerPoint, and Excel," says Sondra Biggs, CMP, convention manager for AAFP, Kansas City, Mo. "There are three rooms, with 21 computers each, where we teach medical-related computer classes--for example, how to search the Web for a medical library. And in the exhibit hall, we have Computer World, a big island booth where doctors can try out programs and access their e-mail."

All that hardware required Internet drops at 71 locations, says Gordon Schmittling, AAFP's director, Division of Research and Information Services. "The medically related classrooms had full T1 access." Making the connections presented no problems, Schmittling says, partly because Moscone had all the connectivity AAFP needed, but also because the association did its homework. "We always rent our computer equipment from the same company. Two months ahead, we decide what equipment we'll use, how many Internet drops we need, and send that list to the convention center staff. It's a matter of preplanning."

Moscone's fiber-optic network is permanently connected to Internet service provider Priority Network's Prime Internet Network via a fully dedicated DS3 (45 Mbps) circuit. Setting up Internet connectivity is a matter of connecting to one of its ubiquitous data-port plugs.

Portland, Ore. : Together Again for the First Time "This is probably the lowest-priced convention center we've ever used," Lisette Burgos says of the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) in Portland, Ore., the venue for SC99: High Performance Networking and Computing. The reason for the bargain: New York City-based ACM/SIGARCH (Association for Computing Machinery/Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture), of which Burgos is program director, partnered with the center several years ago to install permanent wiring, which has helped the facility attract new business.

In 1993, ACM/SIGARCH wanted to take the event, then called Supercomputing, to Portland. The show alternates between the coasts, and Portland, says Burgos, is one of the few venues other than California that can attract the event's attendees--computer architecture scientists and engineers. But OCC's wiring wasn't adequate.

So ACM/SIGARCH made OCC's managers an offer they couldn't refuse. They asked if they could put in fiber-optic cables and T1 and T3 lines, sharing the costs with the facility. Although the group has wired other venues, this is the first time it's returning to one of them. Says Burgos, "We can go back to that center at a very inexpensive rate because we helped them generate revenue."

Oahu: Nearly Ideal The Hawai'i Convention Center is "95 percent great," says Jalene Bermudez, president of Meeting Expectations, Atlanta, a full-service meeting planning company. "It had all the proper cabling to network 300 computers" for the Oracle Applications Users Group meeting last October, she says. "I don't know how many hundreds of phone lines we had. We put that facility to the test and they came through." Plus, "It's the most beautiful center I've ever seen--open air, lots of glass, plants, Hawaiian art. From a building standpoint, it doesn't get any better."

The facility also met all the criteria of her advance team: 125,000 square feet of exhibit space, an area large enough to handle 5,000 people on a flow basis for breakfast and lunch, and a room for 4,500 people in a general session. And all of that was on the first floor.

So what's missing? "The rigging points are every 30 feet, and we needed them every 10 feet," says Bermudez. "If we had known, we would have adjusted our AV planning and room setups." Instead, to install the additional rigging points, "We had to break the fire sealant on the walls to get clamps onto the beam," adding $25,000 to the budget. "But that one problem can be overcome," she says, "and a corporate group wouldn't blink an eye at that $25,000."

Denver: Mountain Service You know how it is when an exhibitor loses connectivity, and you call the tech service, and they don't show up for three hours, and by then nobody's in the exhibit hall anymore, and the exhibitor screams that he's lost 43 key prospects, and it's all your fault?

Ron Crook knows. Crook, account manager for Conference Planners, San Mateo, Calif., a meetings logistics and registration company, describes that as an all-too-familiar scenario. But when Cisco Systems held its user conference at the Denver Convention Center Complex last June, "It was a nice change from other places."

On the facility's recommendation, Cisco hired Priority Networks (formerly GlobalCenter) to install special wiring in the exhibit hall. Cisco had a large corporate booth; on either side were 20 kiosks exhibiting its own lines of business plus those of its business partners. "We had to network to 40 ports, distributing it like spokes of a bicycle wheel," Crook explains. After the installation, "[Priority Networks] was on call 24 hours a day for general troubleshooting," says Crook. "A lot of times they were in the building, just waiting in case we called."

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More Connectivity Highlights

The coasts aren't the only places with tech-friendly meeting space. From the Midwest to the South, there are great new facilities. Indianapolis: Bring Us Your Tech Meetings Indianapolis broke ground in early June on 100,000 square feet of new column-free exhibit space at the Indiana Convention Center. When completed next year, the expansion will bring total exhibit space to 400,000 square feet. Part of the expansion will include 18 new loading docks. There will also be an additional 19,600 square feet of meeting room space, bringing the total to more than 140,000 square feet. And, of course, there will be a network for videoconferencing and Internet access.

The city has a special motivation to be seen as tech-friendly to meetings: Last year, the Central Indiana High-Technology Task Force was created to find out about drawing tech business to the city. The task force has recommended that Indianapolis take steps to enhance high-tech research and development, mentor entrepreneurs, provide access to capital, and generate a skilled work force to boost the city's high-tech standing. The goal is to turn Indianapolis into the Midwest's premier high-tech center for research and development by 2005.

Milwaukee: New Partners Once upon a time, Milwaukee was synonymous with beer. 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 also an administrative upside to this in-house system: Phoneline 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 about 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.)

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 secure as possible.

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 with the performance equivalent of a local area network.

Greater Cincinnati: Even Greater Why not hold a medical conference in a convention center named for a great medical researcher? The 300,000-square-foot Dr. Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, located in downtown Cincinnati, offers advanced audiovisual capabilities. Every exhibit hall and meeting room is wired with bi-directional 450 MHz video broadband cable capabilities. Complete telecommunications links, including access to broadband cable and a satellite downlink dish, are available in all rooms.

Service utilities on the exhibit floor include telecommunications as well as electric, air, water, and gas. Planners intending to show big-screen presentations will be happy to know the main lighting in the hall comes with dimmer switches.

The main exhibit hall encompasses nearly 162,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, enough to comfortably show 845 booths. The main floor can be divided into three separate halls. On the upper levels are 41 meeting rooms, each with individual temperature, sound, and lighting controls, plus noise-reducing walls.

Cincinnati cooks with technology, too: It has an ultra-modern, full-service kitchen that can create meals for as many as 4,000 people at one sitting. And some experiences will always be analog, like getting to and from hotel rooms. The Center is connected by covered skywalk to a total of 2,711 hotel rooms and 128,000 additional square feet of meeting space.

Other Cincinnati venues include the Sharonville Convention Center, located 15 miles north of downtown. Opened in 1994, it offers 16,554 square feet of column-free exhibit space, enough to display 100 exhibit booths. The two-story exhibit hall offers direct drive-in access and electric, telephone, water, and compressed air lines that can be run separately to exhibit booths.

The center's 8,254-square-foot ballroom (divisible into three separate meeting rooms) can accommodate up to 1,030 people for meetings and 544 for banquets. Six meeting rooms total 10,729 square feet.

Greater Cincinnati's newest facility is the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, which opened in November 1998 with 110,000 square feet of function space on the Covington riverfront, just a few blocks and a bridge from the Cincinnati Convention Center.

The new center offers 50,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 22,800-square-foot ballroom on the second floor whose pre-function space overlooks the Ohio River and the downtown Cincinnati skyline.

Nashville: Wired Ol' Opry Opryland USA, the hotel that is also a convention center on its own, is owned by a company that owns television stations. In fact, just about every big television network has originated broadcasts from Gaylord Entertainment's Opryland USA at one time or another.

Planners have not exactly rushed to take advantage of the property's broadcast-quality earth station (equipment used for satellite communications), according to Gregg Hicks, Opryland's director of telecommunications.

That may be because they're already taken with its networking prowess. Start with the road in and out: "We have two T1 lines between our facility and the Internet, operated by two different phone companies," says Hicks. "We can--and do--switch back and forth depending on the service required." Best of all, for those who appreciate the value of redundant systems, each line is a "smart ring," which means the phone line comes into one side of the hotel, passes out the other side into a central office, then back to the hotel again. If any portion of the line breaks, the smart ring reroutes service automatically.

Because the hotel's indoor space is measured in acres, it connects meeting spaces via fiber-optic cable, so networked data can travel up to a mile with no degradation. Organizers can connect as many as 400 PCs ("We haven't found our upper limit yet," says Hicks) to the hotel's network or to their home network, or connect via the hotel's T1 lines to the Internet. And meetings don't have to be huge to use Opryland's capabilities. "We can run private networks and assure security," says Hicks.

Kissimmee/St. Cloud, Fla.: Expo Expected By the first quarter of 2000, the fate of the World Expo Center in Kissimmee should be clearer. By then, Main Street Investments Development Corporations, Palm Beach, Fla., will know whether its two bond issuances have been sold. Assuming the financing goes through, groundbreaking will take place as soon as possible.

The project, scheduled to open in 2003, will have more than a million square feet of exhibition space and 3,000 hotel rooms, all in a single complex. Eventually, according to Rob Miller, president and CEO of Main Street Investments, there will be 2.4 million square feet of meeting and exhibition space and 9,000 hotel rooms, all within a short drive of Walt Disney World and the Orlando airport.

More than 20 events have already been booked for the Central Florida property, according to Madalyn Barton, director of sales and marketing for the World Expo Center.

Progress Report Where do convention centers stand in the high-tech sweepstakes? To find out, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP surveyed the major convention centers in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region for its 1998 Convention & Congress Center Annual Report, receiving 85 responses. Among the major findings:

67 percent of the facilities have fiber-optic wiring available for events

59 percent have category 5 copper wiring (top of the line), 47 percent have category 3, and 33 percent have category 1

61 percent offer Internet access

80 percent have ISDN lines, 52 percent have T1s, and 48 percent have T3s

61 percent offer satellite communication

56 percent have wireless technology