The Pennsylvania Convention Center has been gradually ramping up its connectivity offerings over the past five years.
“When I first came here in 1996, we didn't have anything to offer but dialtone,” says Roo Dunn, production services manager at the Center. “If you wanted ISDN, you bought it yourself from Bell Atlantic; then you had to buy the phone extension from us, and pray that the phone company would show up to test it and give you your terminal adapter. Today, ordering DSL from us is as easy as ordering a phone line.
“The biggest thing people question us about is the decision to go with high-capacity copper as opposed to wireless access,” he adds. “When Don's [Don Krick, manager of technology services] group is out there deploying DSL for 75 or 100 locations, we know copper is going to work.”
In some cases, the copper is Category 6, capable of handing gigabit Ethernet service. This offers capacity equivalent to that of fiber-optic service, but because it is still good old twisted-pair technology, it is a lot cheaper to operate, says Dunn.
Wireless service is available — any workstation with a network interface can be made a wireless station on your own LAN or the Internet — but Dunn has reservations about its reliability and security. “We don't know what's going to happen when our in-house wireless access point is adjacent to an exhibitor booth with its own wireless access point. We're in a large metropolitan area, and we have no reliable way of knowing what other RFs [radio frequencies] are operating nearby. It's ground we're just beginning to cover.”
High-capacity copper service may be the greatest connectivity feature at the Center (as this is written, we know of no other center in the United States that offers DSL service of similar scope), but it's hardly the only one. In fact, when the center upgraded its copper-based switched network last year, it also enhanced fiber service. “We've extended multi-mode fiber to every meeting room and greatly expanded the amount of single-mode fiber available. Now every column in every exhibit hall receives both single- and multi-mode. This allows us to accommodate people who want to demo products over multi-mode as well as video broadcasters, who prefer single-mode.”
This means, among other things, that video satellite downlinks can be transmitted just about anywhere in the facility, no matter where in the building the downlink originates.
Manual Equals Reliable
As much as the Center has become enamored of high-speed connectivity, the primary emphasis is still on reliability. For example, networks can be pre-configured all the way to the meeting room or to one of the floor ports in the exhibit hall. But instead of using programmable soft switches to make connections, the DSL service is manually patched. “It's done manually because that is the most reliable way to do it,” says Dunn. “If you're patching by hand, you know exactly where everything is. Also, there is a tremendous advantage in security: We can deliver a whole network over a separate wire and not even enter our in-house switches.” And, he says, the Center doesn't expect exhibitors to share bandwidth. Connections won't suffer when several high-demand users are online at the same time.
Walk to Guest Rooms
With a total of 1.3 million square feet of space, including 440,000 square feet of exhibit space, the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the second-largest such venue in the Northeast, after New York's Javits Center.
Pennsylvania's Grand Hall has 30,000 square feet of space; the ballroom is 32,000 square feet; and there are 52 meeting rooms, including a 600-seat lecture hall.
Philadelphia has the most commitable rooms in the nation within a block of a convention center — more than 3,500.