Betting on Wi-Fi: Large Public Venues

By Shaun Neal, Blog Contributor
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Many hospitality gaming environments have an aspect of their business that includes large auditoriums, conference centers, outdoor spaces, and event stadiums, and all of these can fall into a classification of wireless network called large public venue (LPV). These venues by definition have unique characteristics in both use cases and challenges that make them, unlike most other environments. It is crucial that the organization recognize this and address it properly, as these venues are often revenue-generating. Often these venues get treated like all of the others, which leads to frustration and poor experience.

Designing for RF in an LPV

In a large public venue, the goal is typically to provide as many people as possible with a “good” Wi-Fi experience rather than a smaller number of people an outstanding experience. One of the major changes here is that providing high-quality connections at higher data rates is critical to success, so one signal-to-noise ratio becomes a dominant design element. Accomplishing this is trickier in indoor bowl-shaped stadiums in some ways than it is doing it outside where the RF can fade off into the distance. Reducing the number of SSIDs is critical. Where many environments can be fine with four to six SSIDs, LPV environments should strive for no more than two if at all possible. If more than two are absolutely necessary, deploy features that restrict these SSIDs to the areas in which they are required. Narrow channels should be used exclusively as channel reuse is critical to providing more capacity, if achievable.

Consider All Infrastructure

In many networks, wireless engineers can take simple services like DNS and DHCP for granted; however, this is not true of an LPV site. Engineers need to determine the load on these servers and ensure they are sized accordingly to handle requests in a timely manner. Longer lease times that avoid clients refreshing their lease mid-session is ideal; however, this needs to be balanced with the venue's turnover rate to ensure exhaustion of address does not occur. In addition to basic services, consider proper sizing of firewalls, routers, internet circuits, etc.  Can they all handle the right amount of throughput with the security features that the venue needs enabled? For exceptionally large venues, consider MAC address table and ARP table sizes, as these may dictate what hardware you need or the design to reduce and/or distribute these tables. Carefully consider whether a captive portal is needed or wanted, as these can introduce both benefits and challenges to the environment. If a captive portal is used, consider caching MAC addresses to make subsequent connections frictionless.

It's All About the Devices

In an LPV, we want the devices to be connected so they don’t continuously probe and clutter the RF spectrum. For venue-owned devices and purchasing decisions, scrutinize how these are configured and what channels they support. Every bit of RF matters, so devices that are only 2.4GHz capable or ones that may not support UNII-2 and/or UNII-2 Extended channels may be of little use or so restrictive to the rest of the environment that they become problematic. Client devices will likely always be random and varied, so making smart decisions on the venue-owned devices is essential to maximizing everyone's experience. Consider how the venue is laid out and how clients will move throughout the venue. If the venue has a lobby or primary waiting area prior to an event opening, consider it part of the LPV and plan for this area to be where users get connected, pull an IP address, etc. In many cases, there are an extreme number of devices in these sort of areas.