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Wi-Fi For Shoppers

Canada's West Edmonton Mall offers visitors a wireless network the size of 48 city blocks.
West Edmonton Mall, a massive shopping and entertainment complex in Alberta, Canada, has set a new precedent for the use of wireless technologies in retail. The mall offers customers a Wi-Fi network the size of 48 city blocks and is planning new ways to use the network to run operations, such as mall security and customer check-in to the hotel on its premises.

The mall has more than 800 stores, 110 eating establishments, and an amusement park. Visitors can stay in the mall's Fantasyland Hotel. The entire property is served by a network using Siemens Communications Inc. products, including 55 hot-spot access points, that the mall calls Wemisphere.

Mall visitors aren't just riding roller coasters and buying clothes. About 2,000 visitors a month use Wemisphere, deployed seven months ago, to access the Internet, says Joseph Schuldhaus, VP of IT at the mall. "We're giving people convenience where they want it and when they want it," he says.

This past spring, West Edmonton retail tenants began selling Wemisphere prepaid wireless-account cards to shoppers. When an account is activated, customers are redirected to the tenant's Web site or a promotional page. Shoppers can use their Wi-Fi-enabled handheld devices as a shopping aid: As they walk through the mall, specific retail promotions appear on their screens when they pass by those retailers. Behind the scenes is location-based technology that tracks account users in the mall.

Schuldhaus sees Wi-Fi as a great enabler for a variety of future applications. Within six months, the mall plans to deploy surveillance cameras that security guards can control from anywhere, including patrol cars, using Wi-Fi-equipped devices.

In addition, the mall's Fantasyland Hotel staff will soon be able to check in visitors curbside using wireless handheld devices.

Schuldhaus also plans to use the wireless network for voice over IP within the next year and equip customer-service personnel and hotel staff with VoIP handsets that include location-based technology. Schuldhaus says that will improve communications and staff responses to critical situations.