What if you could get 700,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 38,750-square-foot conference center, mostly on one level, designed for roll-in, roll-out truck service? What if this venue had a multi-gigabit capacity Fast Ethernet network? What if it were in the snazziest new neighborhood in London? That's ExCel, the brand-spanking new (opened November 2000) exhibition center/conference center, located on the Royal Victoria Wharf in London's trendy Docklands area.

With its 970,000 gross square feet of pillarless space, U.S. conference organizers used to the wide-open look of American convention centers will feel right at home. It's certainly not the kind of venue you'd expect to find within the borders of a major European city.

But then, the circumstances of ExCel's construction were out of the ordinary. In 1855, huge grain ships were unloading at the mile-long Victoria dock. But by 1981, the Docklands was, by all accounts, an urban wasteland. The subsequent development of Canary Wharf and other projects during the next two decades was that rare thing, a triumph of urban renewal. Event managers will be pleased to discover that the fruits of this renewal are coming into place around the ExCel venue, including seven hotels with 1,500 guest rooms and 500 apartments opening now, and another 3,500 guest rooms expected to come on stream by the end of the year.

Bandwidth to Spare From day one, ExCel has been ready to handle the most demanding tech meetings. Plano, Texas-based EDS installed the network backbone using powerful Cisco Systems switches. Every one of the more than 2,500 data ports in the building is Fast Ethernet- and virtual local area

network (VLAN)-enabled. Using firewalls, organizers can have varying levels of Internet/LAN accessibility and security. The VLAN service, operating under Cisco's AVVID (architecture for voice, video, and data) can run voice-over IP telephony and video as well as data. As if that weren't enough, there is also a wireless Ethernet system.

For Internet access, there are three T3-equivalent (45-megabit) digital WAN (wide-area network) links following two separate pathways into the building. ExCel is also ready with in-house UNIX support for hosting Web sites and applications.

For conference organizers who still need good old ISDN or analog phone service ("legacy service," as it is diplomatically called by Peter Campbell, information services director), there is a Mitel PABX in place.

Video uplink/downlink service is available via NTL, the Famborough, England-based international satellite and fiber-network supplier. Be aware, however, that both EDS and NTL are exclusive technology partners, which means no bringing in outside services. This should not be a problem, says Campbell. "The whole purpose of putting this infrastructure in place is to remove, or at least greatly reduce, the need for conference organizers to bring in their own systems." He adds, "We acknowledge that some events may want to show their own solutions as an intrinsic part of the event--this will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

Easy Access Beyond the technical, ExCel has physical attributes that will make any U.S. conference organizer happy, especially in terms of access. The building is mostly on one level. Any truck legal for U.K. roads can drive directly onto the exhibit floor through any one of 30 doors. There is a truck-marshaling area, capable of handling up to 1,000 vehicles. There is also that great rarity in European city venues: parking for 5,000 cars.

Already, 130 events are scheduled for this year at ExCel, expected to draw more than 2 million visitors. To learn more, visit www.excel-london.co.uk.