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The National Gallery

The National Gallery


  • Fourth most visited art museum in the world deploys Cisco Meraki 802.11ac WiFi
  • WiFi configured for visitors, corporate devices, and ticketing scanners
  • Graphical representation of footfall across the museum included at no extra cost

Founded in 1824, The National Gallery has grown to be the fourth most visited art museum in the world, welcoming in excess of 6 million visitors every year. Located in the heart of London in prominent Trafalgar Square, the Gallery employs approximately 600 staff in a wide range of capacities to care for the collection of over 2,300 paintings. 

Prior to the autumn of 2013, there was no WiFi access across The National Gallery apart from some unmanaged, ad-hoc APs used during events. “Various departments were coming to us saying they couldn’t implement certain initiatives without wireless connectivity, and we were seeing demand from staff members with corporate devices such as laptops and tablets,” said Stuart Ewins, IS Systems Manager at The National Gallery.

The first step for The National Gallery was to understand how many wireless access points would be required throughout the building. “The National Gallery is obviously in a tremendously historic building with very thick walls, so the first thing we did was commission a wireless consultant to perform a site survey to get an idea about the number of access points we would need,” said Ewins.

The National Gallery subsequently went to tender for their wireless deployment via a framework agreement. “We received responses to the tender from various vendors including Aruba, Meru, Huawei, Xirrus and Meraki of course,” commented Ewins.

High on the list of requirements, set out in the tender, was the ability of the wireless to reliably deliver multimedia content (for the lecture rooms and theatres) and ease of deployment and management. Whichever wireless vendor The National Gallery chose, they knew extensive cabling would be required, hence a straightforward deployment process was key. “We were presuming that we would end up with a controller-based solution,” said Ewins. “At the time, we really didn’t know all that much about Meraki and that it was a 100% cloud managed architecture.”

Another requirement detailed in the tender was for the wireless to be capable of the 802.11ac standard for wireless or be easily upgradeable. “We wanted our investment in the wireless to be current for as long as possible,” explained Ewins. “So we were pleasantly surprised to learn that Meraki was one of a handful of vendors, at the time, with an 802.11ac capable AP in their portfolio.” Cisco was one of the first to market with an 802.11ac capable wireless access point, the Cisco Meraki MR34. Not only does the MR34 support the newest 802.11ac standard for wireless, it is best in class for wireless security with a dedicated security radio, and it delivers exceptional performance of up to 1.75 Gbps throughput.

Once the tender responses were all received, Meraki clearly stood apart from other vendors. “Meraki’s tender responses were very easy to interpret,” said Ewins. “With Meraki we were able to simply calculate a predictable cost for the deployment with all inclusive licensing per wireless access point, as opposed to what we’d received from other vendors where licensing was based on the number of users.” The Cisco Meraki enterprise license is simply one per Cisco Meraki hardware device with no limitation on the number of users. The license includes all available features from day one, and new features are regularly added at no cost or complexity via seamless over-the-web firmware updates.

The Meraki dashboard now sets a new standard of what ease of management means!Stuart Ewins, IS Systems Manager

Meraki was shortlisted and The National Gallery was provided a demonstration of the web-based dashboard. “Ease of management was one of our key requirements, but we hadn’t really quantified this,” Ewins explained. The dashboard allows intuitive configuration of SSIDs and Layer-7 monitoring of clients and applications of Cisco Meraki devices from anywhere in the world. “When we saw the Meraki dashboard, it blew our minds – it now sets a new standard of what ease of management means!” said Ewins.

Cisco Meraki was unanimously selected as The National Gallery’s wireless vendor. “The effortless plug-and-play deployment combined with the Cisco Meraki dashboard allowed us to make a decision in Meraki’s favour easily,” said Ewins.

“We had a more detailed site survey carried out based on the Cisco Meraki MR34 APs,” said Ewins. APs were deployed first in the newest part of the gallery, the Sainsbury Wing, where 20 Cisco Meraki MR34s provide coverage for an area large enough to hold over 2,000 London double-decker buses.

“Dashboard configuration for the SSIDs we wanted took less than half a day,” said Ewins. To date The National Gallery has deployed over 180 Cisco Meraki MR34 access points across the five floors of their building. Following the first deployment in the Sainsbury Wing, APs were deployed across the Gallery in 12-hour windows between exhibitions. “This really wasn’t a lot of time but luckily with Meraki all we had to do was literally plug the APs in,” said Ewins.

The Gallery has configured their Cisco Meraki APs to broadcast three main SSIDs: for visitors, for corporate devices, and for wireless ticketing scanners. The corporate SSID is integrated with The National Gallery’s existing 802.1X RADIUS server and users are prompted for a username and password to authenticate. Visitors access the WiFi via a simple click-through splash page. All Cisco Meraki wireless APs have a built-in stateful firewall which allows the Gallery to block visitors from accessing applications such as gaming, P2P and file sharing, as well as limiting each visitor to 5 Mbps of bandwidth. The visitor network is scheduled using the Cisco Meraki dashboard such that it automatically becomes available at opening time and disables at closing time. Wireless ticketing scanners associate to another SSID using a pre-shared key with WPA encryption. Only the visitor SSID is publicly broadcast; the corporate and ticketing scanner networks are hidden.

There’s an additional hidden SSID also set up with a pre-shared key and ready to use for events. “We’ve configured the events SSID to also have an availability schedule but the schedule is disabled all the time every day,” explained Ewins. “If we get a last minute request for WiFi at an event then we can very quickly just change the availability schedule for the SSID to enable it for the duration of the event on that day.”

The National Gallery has had their Cisco Meraki 802.11ac wireless network successfully in place for almost a year now. “The entire process was seamless, and we’re still being pleasantly surprised by Meraki today,” said Ewins. “During deployment, we physically installed APs to a section of the Gallery but hadn’t wired them with Ethernet connectivity yet, so we were quite surprised to learn that those APs were successfully serving clients!” All Cisco Meraki APs come with built-in auto-mesh technology. Should an AP lose connection from the gateway, it will seamlessly switch to repeater mode and still be able to serve clients by meshing with a nearby AP with gateway access.

The National Gallery see, on average, around 2,000 unique clients on the wireless network every day and over 2TB of usage per month. “We’ve had no negative feedback from anyone about the wireless since it’s been in place, which in terms of IT projects, is a massive success!” said Ewins.

In addition to intuitive configuration and monitoring of their wireless network, The National Gallery have a wealth of analytics available in the dashboard. “Information about peak footfall across the Gallery at various times of the day and to see it graphically as an animation on the dashboard is fantastic,” said Ewins. “What’s remarkable, though, is that it’s included in the solution at zero cost!” For now, The National Gallery are content with using the information to gain an insight into their customers, but they have plans to explore the possibilities of integrating this with a mobile app to provide an enhanced location-based experience for visitors.