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10/12/2004
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Wi-Fi Installed In Big D Arena

The American Airlines Center deploys Wi-Fi to improve customer service, internal operations, and security. RFID may be used in the future as well.

Dallas' American Airlines Center is the latest entertainment venue to go wireless. Home to the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and the Dallas Stars hockey team, the facility plans to disclose Wednesday that it's deploying a wireless network to provide new services to fans, guests, reporters, and center staff.

"This is something that we've considered for a long time," says the center's IT director, Joe Heinlein. "When we built the building in 2001, we thought about running a cable to every seat in the house. But that proved impracticable and too expensive."

Eventually, the center joined other sports arenas in installing a wireless network. The first phase, which is under way, includes the placement of 50 to 60 Wi-Fi access points and a wireless-LAN switching system from Aruba Wireless Networks.

The network is designed to provide coverage in meetings rooms, press rooms, in the operations center, and in some of the restaurants and concession areas. Heinlein hopes to have some applications running by the start of the NBA season Nov. 2 and others deployed by the end of the year.

Those applications would let fans sitting in the premium section order food and drink from their seats, and it would give security personnel using PDAs access to 180 wireless security cameras that cover more than 1 million square feet of the arena.

"This will give us the ability to be mobile and monitoring as opposed to one person sitting at a desk watching TV screens," Heinlein says.

Center staffers also plan to use the wireless network for real-time asset management and work-order processing without going to an office to fill out a form. Further down the road, Heinlein plans to place RFID tags on expensive items such as plasma screens, video cameras, and audio equipment. Combined with the Wi-Fi system, it should be easier to prevent them from being stolen.

"Wireless opens up a cornucopia of options for things we might do," says Heinlein, including in-house voice service and the ability to locate a specific device or person in the center. It also should eliminate the need for concert promoters and other entertainers to deploy their own communications systems when they put on a show at the facility. The center is co-owned by dot-com billionaire Mark Cuban, who also owns the Mavericks.

Heinlein says he chose Aruba's product line because it is scalable, provides strong security, and is relatively easy to manage.

"I can put 16 different networks on one access point and build profiles so they don't touch each other," he says. None of the parties would discuss the cost of the system or the return on investment.

Wireless technology is becoming increasingly popular at a wide range of sporting events and facilities. Earlier this year, Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros baseball team, deployed Wi-Fi technology from Cisco Systems. Time Warner Cable-Houston is managing and operating the Wi-Fi system, which uses more than 90 Cisco Aironet access points to cover nearly 29 acres. A Nortel Networks Wi-Fi system also is available at SBC Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and Wi-Fi is expected to be deployed at Cardinals Field, the new ballpark set to open in St. Louis in 2006. Wireless systems also have been deployed during the Indianapolis 500 car race, the All-American Soap Box Derby, and a number of marathons.

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