RealTime IT News

Wi-Fi LAN Turbocharges Tradeshow Operation

Timing is everything in the tradeshow/exposition decorating services business. Superior organization is essential for speedy—and profitable—completion of exhibit spaces in those hectic hours when a tradeshow is being mounted behind closed doors.

According to Chris Valentine, CEO of Champion Exposition Services, one of the three largest exposition decorating services in the U.S., up-to-the-minute tracking information for on-site workers is essential expediting exhibit setup. Even a few unanswered questions can lead to costly delays. In looking to upgrade from a system that relied on manual re-keying of paper records and telephone calls for filling information gaps, Champion needed a way to connect to the company LAN—from warehouse, loading dock, and tradeshow floor.

The solution, designed by company MIS manager Mike Rizzolo, was a portable wireless LAN, dubbed Purenet, that could be easily moved from venue to venue and provide wire-free connections with a variety of handheld computing devices.

Purenet is based on the Agere ORiNOCO Access Point-1000 (AP-1000) wireless access point with dual-radio slots. Agere Systems ORiNOCO software converts the basic AP-1000 system into an Outdoor Router system that provides additional range and capabilities.

Two radios, no waiting
Rizzolo uses a different ORiNOCO network interface card in each of the AP-1000's slots, with the two radios operating on different frequencies. One channel serves as a direct, long-distance wireless bridge (known as a remote outdoor router or ROR). The other channel serves as a point-to-multipoint (central outdoor router or COR) connection for the various hand-held devices used throughout the facility. According to Rizzolo, this special dual-card feature makes the ORiNOCO AP-1000 an ideal solution for Champion's needs by providing both multi-point access and a long-distance link in a single unit.

With Purenet in place, Champion staff members can go anywhere on the premises, talking with the exhibitors and making spot checks to ensure that the construction crews have everything they need to build their exhibits. At any location on the floor or loading dock, Champion's staff can enter data directly into a centralized proprietary database, and workers with portable computers can access that database for inquiries, billing and stocking reports, or rush delivery requests.

Rizzolo says, "With one card serving as a network backbone and the second as the user channel, we have a similar scenario to a cellular phone network. As the user passes from node to node, the signal transfers to whichever unit has the better reception."

Ready to travel
Rizzolo has preconfigured two types of units for fast installation at work sites. His multi-point configuration is a self-contained box that mounts high in the ceiling and provides adequate ventilation and support for an AP 1000. According to Rizzolo, "The only external source we need to provide is 120V AC. I use the small omni-directional antenna since we go for maximum coverage, not point-to-point distance."

In the booths, Rizzolo mounts another box containing an ROR on the steel framework. The antennas normally stick out over the walls with a line of sight to a ceiling unit. He ties into the network by hooking one of the antennas to a 10-BaseT landline Internet connection.

As Champion moves from one trade show location to another, the wireless equipment can now move with the staff. Rizzolo is quite enthusiastic about how easy it is to get the ORiNOCO network up and running. He needs only one good location at the convention center to install the AP-1000 and its antennas. The pre-configured hand-held computers start working as soon as they are turned on. If any problems occur, a diagnostic system in the AP Manager software allows the network administrator to quickly get to the cause.

Before and after
Before Champion installed the new wireless system, each shipment resulted in a paperwork scramble. People in the office had to print out shipping documents and get them to the shipping dock in time to unload the trucks. The person on the shipping dock had to locate the papers, track the items delivered, and return to the office for questions and reports. Very few problems could be solved on site, so the process was often delayed by unplanned phone calls or journeys to the office.

With the wireless network in place, when a shipment arrives, a Champion employee pulls out a notebook computer and locates the tracking list. There is no need to take notes on paper and send them back to the office. Notations made at the shipping dock go directly to the database, and the billing and tracking records are updated immediately. If items seem to be missing, someone with a portable computer can run tracking inquiries directly from the unloading point and resolve many problems on the spot.

From the loading dock, the equipment goes either to storage or directly to the trade show work site. The tracking and accounting records can be quickly updated at each handling point. With the real-time database updates that result from the use of hand-held computers, people in the office receive immediate feedback on the progress of work-site activities.

From the trade-show floor, Champion employees can use their notebook computers to check assembly instructions, verify the bill of materials, or hunt down needed items. Knowing whether an item is in the warehouse, on the loading dock, still in shipment, or unavailable can save a lot of time. A worker can order materials or record the billing hours for work-site construction activities directly from the floor. This cuts down on paperwork, reduces duplication, and decreases the likelihood that any notes will be lost on the way to the office.

All told, by eliminating duplication and needless paperwork the Purenet system has saved Champion countless record-keeping man-hours. Having real-time tracking records immediately available at every location helps work proceed with fewer problems and gives customers at show site the fast service and quick answers they want. The office network is the core of Champion's business. Having wireless LAN computer links at the shipping docks, warehouses and trade show floor is like easily transporting the office to the work-site.