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Capital FM Arena

Capital FM Arena

Highlights

  • Premier UK concert venue deploys secure WiFi for guests, staff, and performers
  • Entire network managed simply and intuitively through the Meraki dashboard
  • Nearly instant configuration of AP settings, even without on-site IT support

Capital FM Arena

The Capital FM Arena is one of the UK’s premier concert venues and ice rinks. Yet despite the proliferation of mobile devices, the venue’s WiFi network was an afterthought. “We used to arbitrarily install access points every time a new requirement for wireless came up,” said Rob Williams, IT Director at Capital FM Arena. “It was a very haphazard approach; with each new AP it became more and more difficult to manage them all. Over the years this resulted in the accumulation of around 30 disjointed APs.” 

Trying to manage all the APs from a variety of vendors was a big drain on IT resources. “With the ever increasing demand for WiFi, we needed a simpler solution,” Williams explained. He remained unimpressed with the centrally managed solutions due to their costly and complex WiFi controller requirement.

In 2009, Williams attended an IT Directors Forum, where he met Reed Sheard, CIO at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. Sheard, who had recently replaced his Aruba wireless LAN with over 300 Meraki access points, recommended Meraki for the Capital FM Arena.  Meraki’s cloud-managed WiFi solution, Sheard explained, would provide centralised management and high performance without the cost and complexity of traditional controller-based solutions.

Williams visited Meraki’s website, where he tried the “live demo” of Meraki’s web based management dashboard. “I got it within seconds,” he said. He followed up the demo with a request for free evaluation gear, and soon received a set of Meraki wireless APs. “Configuring new SSIDs on the Meraki APs felt like I was playing. It put the fun back into IT!”

One-by-one, all the old wireless APs are being replaced in favour of Meraki’s enterprise class cloud-managed APs. “Normally the physical installation of APs is the easy part and configuration the difficult bit, but Meraki have totally turned that on its head,” said Williams.

Williams can now create multiple SSIDs in seconds, configuring the network remotely over the web. Depending on the concert schedule, the arena has its APs configured to broadcast up to 5 SSIDs: public, guest, staff, backstage-production/artist and backstage-crew – all with different authentication and access control policies. “The demand and types of users accessing the network increase significantly when there is a concert taking place. I love the fact I can enable/disable concert SSIDs as required with one click and from anywhere, even the pub!” Williams said.

In addition, Williams discovered a pleasantly surprising revenue source following the Meraki deployment. “We made more in public WiFi revenues in one day, with Meraki’s cloud-managed APs, than we did in 8 years through our previous managed network provider.”

The robust wireless infrastructure then enabled the arena’s senior management team to introduce company-owned iPads in parts of the venue.

Using iPads during meetings would never have been possible or considered without the ease at which we’re able to control the WiFi using the Meraki Dashboard.Rob Williams, IT Director

With the resounding success of the current Meraki deployment, Williams is now looking to upgrade to a wireless ticket scanning system. In preparation, he asked a PCI consultant to review the network to see what needed to be done. “When I showed him the Dashboard, and in particular the PCI reporting tools, he was amazed. Our network is good to go,” said Williams. 

Williams, an avid technology blogger, admits that Meraki has made him a cloud convert. “I hated the buzz-word ‘cloud’ but Meraki has completely changed my opinion of that now – it finally makes sense to me!” he says. “Meraki’s cloud-managed solution has got to be my favourite product in IT over the last 20 years, it truly is amazing!”