Historic Outdoor Performance Venue Tackles Unique Wi-Fi Challenge

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Ravinia Festival and IT firm CrossRealms expand wireless coverage to more than 15,000 concert goers come summer 2015, thanks to Gigabit Wi-Fi and wireless mesh architecture.

More than 15,000 Ravinia Festival Park concert goers will be able to text, talk and share under the stars come the summer 2015 concert season, thanks to new Wi-Fi technology (Gigabit Wi-Fi) and a partnership between IT firm CrossRealms Inc. and the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States. “We want to enhance the Park experience for our guests,” said Ravinia Information Technology Director Jamie Laing. “Visitors spend an entire afternoon or evening here. They need and want connectivity to meet up with friends, get caught up on work, or just share the experience of enjoying a picnic and concert at Ravinia.”

The stars aligned for CrossRealms and Ravinia when at the start of the project, the Federal Communications Commission voted to expand the amount of wireless spectrum available for Wi-Fi use. Ravinia will be able to deploy new equipment and infrastructure specifically designed to work with next generation Wi-Fi. “It helps extends the usefulness of the project and future-proof it financially,” said Usama Houlila, CrossRealms CEO and enterprise architect.

The 36-acre park, 26 miles north of Chicago, with six distinct venues presented a unique set of infrastructure challenges to providing reliable, high-speed service to thousands of concurrent users. The Festival hosts up to 150 performances during the three-month summer season, including live concerts that attract as many as 15,000 visitors.

Seating is available on the sprawling lawn, in The Pavilion (a 3,400-seat covered auditorium), in private tents, and at an indoor/outdoor dining pavilion. The Park also has two indoor recital halls that seat 450 and 850 people. When CrossRealms, a Chicago-based IT consultancy and managed services firm, conducted a needs assessment, it discovered that Ravinia’s wireless infrastructure could only support 1,200 concurrent wireless users and was not deployed where it was most needed.

The lawn generally is less densely populated than The Pavilion, but audience size, density, and demand for wireless service varies greatly depending on the event. Wi-Fi busy periods also vary. Other complications included Wi-Fi signal interference from trees on the wooded Park grounds and from a metal grid that spans The Pavilion ceiling.

CrossRealms also had to ensure that Ravinia could separate, protect and prioritize Wi-Fi traffic. The network has to support both back-office users and audience members and applications including ticket scanners, point-of-sale systems, as well as smartphones and other handheld devices that visitors bring.

Aesthetics presented another challenge. Ravinia Festival wanted attractive antennae that could be deployed discreetly to preserve the natural beauty and historic flavor of the Park.

And then there was cost. Ravinia is a nonprofit organization with a lean operating budget. The organization directs donations to its music education programs for underserved schools and communities. They sought a wireless solution that would not require costly trenching and hard wiring and found one in wireless mesh architecture.

CrossRealms helped Ravinia save additional money by negotiating with the selected vendor to pass along equipment discounts that it ordinarily would provide to CrossRealms, to Ravinia. Ravinia will use the money saved on hardware to purchase and install switching infrastructure that can support the new wireless network. The new switching infrastructure allows for centralized management, which was another priority for Ravinia.

CrossRealms has been working with Ravinia on a range of infrastructure, security and server projects since 2011.
“We started out small with CrossRealms and since then, they have succeeded on one project after another,” said Laing. “They have been doing our security infrastructure, and Wi-Fi is an extension of that. CrossRealms staff also has experience with a wide range of device types and different vendors. It was a natural fit.”

For the Ravinia wireless project, CrossRealms conducted a needs assessment; put out a request for proposal; evaluated vendor responses; initiated proof of concept; and negotiated cost with the selected vendor. It will manage all aspects of the project, including installation.

CrossRealms is an IT consulting and managed services firm that delivers customized technological solutions to improve business productivity. Our clients range from small private companies, to mid-size nonprofits, to Fortune 500 corporations.

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Jody Oesterreicher
CrossRealms
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