Aruba enables Palexpo to add digital layer as it elevates exhibitor service expectations

Palexpo is one of Europe's largest exhibition venues. The 106,000 sqm facility hosts a number of world-class events, including the Geneva International Motor Show, Davis Cup Tennis and the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.

Situated alongside Geneva airport, Palexpo is ideally placed. Europe's major cities are within an hour's flying time, and there is easy road and rail access into France, Italy and Germany. Despite these advantages the venue works hard to guard against complacency.

"We want to make Palexpo a place where visitors can meet and enjoy a unique experience," says Olivier Ramel, head of Networks & Telecoms, Palexpo. "We want to be talked about as a place that is the benchmark in high-quality services. And that requires us to master the latest technology."

Wireless as a non-negotiable service

Every exhibitor has a fully-functional wireless service, with 100% availability. We can offer a turn-key solution. Exhibitors are happy. Olivier Ramel, head of Networks & Telecoms, Palexpo

Technology is now a vital component of the exhibitor and visitor experience. For exhibitors, the experience goes beyond the static stand; modern exhibitions are augmented by a full digital experience.

"It is essential we provide dedicated Wi-Fi coverage for exhibitors," says Ramel. "Exhibitors want to access email and social media, they want to stream content or control elements on their stand wirelessly. This is now non-negotiable."

Ensuring wireless connectivity across seven halls is no easy feat. "Our halls are up to 19-metres in height, they are packed with steel, and we have exhibitors in every corner," explains Ramel. "And the network cannot fail. We need 100% availability during an event, with wireless planning to anticipate the failure of a single access point."

Managed connectivity for every visitor
Working alongside Kyos, a local IT specialist and long-term solutions provider to Palexpo, Ramel drew up a brief: "We wanted a density of coverage to allow for 5,000 users per hall, up to 25,000 across the site, and the means to manage connectivity to individual exhibitors. We also wanted one supplier."

Ramel then visited a number of venues across Europe, including stadiums, events spaces and exhibition centres.
"We quickly realised that a centralised controller was essential," he says. "That narrowed the choice down to Cisco and Aruba. Very quickly, due to the ease of installation, the proximity of a local partner, the evolution of the system, and the geolocation features, we decided on Aruba."

The Aruba solution comprises 400 access points (including around 300 Aruba 220 and 320 Series APs permanently in the halls), plus two Aruba 7200 series Mobility Controllers. Temporary access points can be added to improve coverage at the busiest events. In addition, 80 antennas are used throughout the halls to improve connectivity to every corner. Aruba Adaptive Radio Management (ARM) allows automatic infrastructure-based controls to manage the entire RF spectrum.

Finally, Aruba AirWave provides granular reporting on network use. By proactively monitoring the health and performance of all things connected, AirWave provides Ramel's team the insights needed to support exhibitor services.

Every user is guaranteed 10Mb of bandwidth and Palexpo can allocate individual SSIDs to exhibitors or press.

Delivering world-class infrastructure

The Aruba solution provides a solid wireless infrastructure across the entire site, with the means to ramp up connectivity should it be required. The Geneva International Motor Show, Palexpo's busiest event, sees 385 APs in the halls. It delivers a world-class wireless experience, in line with Palexpo's service ambitions.

"Every exhibitor has a fully-functional wireless service, with 100% availability," says Ramel. "We can offer a turn-key solution. Exhibitors are happy."

Reliable wireless connectivity enables exhibitors to add a new layer of service. For instance, at the Geneva Motor Show, BMW and Ford among others, used tablet devices to book test drives at local dealers for international visitors. The tablets could also show audio and video detail on cars. Jaguar and Land Rover displayed a wall of social media comments, coming live from the event. Renault used its wireless connectivity to manage an impressive dynamic light display on its stand.

In week one of the event, over 10,000 members of the press attended. The Aruba solution comfortably accommodated 8,000 concurrent users, all able to send large-volume video and image files by email or post to social media. "It went without a hitch," says Ramel. "For future events we're looking at providing press with up to 30Mb, all on Wi-Fi. If our users are happy, we're happy."

Reporting and control

Aruba Airwave enables Ramel to generate meaningful, actionable reporting; the Aruba Mobility Controllers centralise all traffic and simplify management, client by client, device by device.

"One of the main strength of this controller is its firewalling. AirWave allows us to view the radio quality in any of the halls, to check client status, and find and tackle any issues. We can then share this reporting with exhibitors and event organisers."

This insight, he continues, better informs future events and enables Palexpo to map services to high traffic areas.

Flexibility today, with a roadmap for tomorrow

The solution also contributes to Palexpo's sustainability agenda. Ten years ago, exhibition visitors would have been weighed down by paper brochures; today, information can be sent digitally, direct to a visitor from an exhibitor's stand. The amount of printed materials has been slashed.
Ramel says the Aruba solution delivers flexibility today, and a roadmap for improvements in the future. "We can add more APs as needed, or redistribute antennas as required. The Aruba ARM allows us to easily manage radio frequencies, depending on the topology of the event." He continues, "While the wired network needs to be static, wireless by definition needs to be available where people go and needs to be flexible. We change our hall configuration for every show and may need to add temporary APs as required by exhibitors. It would be unimaginable to have to redesign everything every time. Aruba System is the solution allowing such flexibility."

The next step is to add Aruba ClearPass Policy Manager; Ramel is also looking at Beacons and Aruba Analytics and Location Engine (ALE): "We're really keen on learning more from the flow of people around the site, and creating services around that information. ClearPass will allow us to provide a single portal for customers to register, log in and access services securely."