Las Vegas DAS Boasts Capacity Equal to 14 Cell Towers

May 9, 2017 —

By Don Bishop

A major DAS overhaul brings the Las Vegas Convention Center up to date with coverage and capacity for serving smartphones and Wi-Fi users. Additional Ethernet capacity serves exhibitors in the 3.2-million-square-foot space.

In December 2016, Cox Business and InSite Wireless Group completed an $18 million distributed antenna system (DAS) project for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in Las Vegas, Nevada. The DAS took three years to plan and 10 months to build. It serves the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Hugh Sinnock, vice president of customer experience for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Photo by Don Bishop

Hugh Sinnock, vice president of customer experience for the authority, said that in 2016, Las Vegas hosted 22,000 corporate events and business activities, along with 60 to 80 trade shows in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Expo and Convention Center and Mandalay Bay. He said the Trade Show News Network reported that Las Vegas was the No. 1 trade show destination in the United States for the 23rd straight year.

“Today, 48 of the 50 states have gaming of some sort,” he said. “Gaming is not that big of a deal in Las Vegas. In the major properties, revenue from gaming is third behind room revenue and behind food and beverage sales. So, we have to do something more beyond just continuing the gaming option. When gaming came to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and to Macau, everybody said, ‘It’s over for Vegas.’ No, no, no. It’s only gone greater and greater. Last year, we welcomed more than 42 million people to this sleepy little desert town.”

Sinnock said that keeping up with advances in technology is a key to maintaining the Las Vegas Convention Center’s ability to compete. He said the authority’s decision to upgrade the convention center’s Wi-Fi service and to introduce a DAS network is the most important thing it’s done in the last 10 years. The convention center has 3.2 million square feet under roof and 100 acres of surface parking lot. Sinnock said that in March, the convention center hosted the largest North American trade show in history: Conexpo-Con/Agg, a trade show for the construction industry that takes place every three years.

“It took every inch of the building and every parking lot,” Sinnock said. “Do you think those people wanted fiber and Wi-Fi out there in the parking lot? Absolutely. They built two-story office buildings out there. They had a sprung structure in our Diamond parking lot that contained more than 200,000 square feet, all filled with 10×10 exhibitors, all wanting to have a telecommunications connection.”

About four years ago, Sinnock started wondering why people were complaining about poor Wi-Fi service and dropped calls in the convention center. The authority issued a request for proposals that led to selecting Cox Business to improve the convention center’s telecommunications services, including phones and Wi-Fi, along with Ethernet connections for as many as 2,000 exhibitors. He said 180,000 people came through the building in January for CES, a global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show, and more than 100,000 were expected for the April NAB Show conducted by the National Association of Broadcasters.

Access Points: From 166 up to 2,200

The authority asked Cox Business to give it a white paper describing what the authority should do to provide adequate service. Cox Business said the Wi-Fi upgrade would be extensive and expensive, and that Cox Business would pay for it. With its previous system, the convention center had 166 access points in its 3.2 million square feet. Now, the convention center has 2,200 access points.

“The Orlando convention center has 800 access points,” Sinnock said. “McCormick Place in Chicago has 650. They’re both larger than we are. We have 2,200 access points. But we don’t have a choice. With shows like CES, NAB, the Magic Marketplace clothing and accessory trade show and the ICSC trade show of the International Council of Shopping Centers, we can’t afford not to have enough access points.”

The telecom system installed in the convention center provides Wi-Fi service using 802.11ac technology, which offers higher speeds over longer distances, an increased number of devices supported by an access point, and reduced interference. Its Ethernet service allows for 10 Gbps high-capacity broadband straight to the convention floor, with a redundant system throughout. “No other convention center has more than 1 gig permanently,” Sinnock said. “We’ve never needed 10 gig. But we’ve been up to 4.8 gig with CES.”

The authority wanted the DAS to be ready in time for CES in January, and with its completion in December 2015, the system was ready.

“This DAS wasn’t cheap,” Sinnock said. “It cost $18 million. Now, there’s no convention center that can afford that. We couldn’t either. We don’t have that budget. Instead, the four carriers all paid for it. They knew how important it was that they deliver their service here, and they came through. It took three years to plan. It took 10 months to install. It’s one thing to install DAS in a small building. But when you have 80 trade shows going on and you’re trying to change out something, it’s a nearly impossible task. It took a lot of effort to coordinate that process.”

Sinnock said the results with the new DAS have been phenomenal. “On the opening day of CES this year, I stood in the Samsung booth in the heart of CES,” he said. “I held up my phone. I had five bars on Verizon. I thought, ‘Thank goodness.’ This didn’t happen before.”

A schematic of Central Hall in the convention center (see Page 00) shows the positioning of access points every 60 feet. Sinnock said the coverage gives the authority options for location-based services it hopes to sell to the conventions. Examples include tracking which doors most attendees use to show how they enter the exhibit space. “You always have an exhibitor in the back of the hall who says, ‘I’m getting no traffic. There’s nobody in my booth.’ This way, show management can say, ‘You had 3,000 people in there before noon.’ You can see it by heat-seeking. It’s an awesome feature.”

Insite Wireless Group helped the authority to coordinate and negotiate contracts with the four wireless carriers. The installers placed the DAS headend in a two-story air-conditioned warehouse at the rear of the convention property that Sinnock described as huge and state-of-the-art. The DAS delivers capacity equivalent to 14 cell towers.

For the future, Sinnock said the Nevada governor signed legislation to provide some funds to enable the authority to expand the convention center by 1 million square feet. “In 2015, we acquired the former Riviera Hotel & Casino site,” he said. “It was a 60-year-old property. Who else buys a casino and then blows it up and tears it down to build a parking lot — like the song? But we did. We need contiguous land, and we picked up another 26 acres there. Construction probably will start next summer and will be completed in 2020. So here we go again with technology. What will be in store then? What will we need to have to serve that area? The distance and the size of what we have to cover are phenomenal.”

As part of its exclusive arrangement to provide telcom service in the convention center, Cox Business pays the authority a commission. Cox Business derives revenue from exhibitors who use Ethernet service. The company also handles the authority’s digital advertising.

“We have 14 screens for advertising,” Sinnock said.” Cox Business took them over from the previous provider. We’re hoping that they get rid of that equipment soon and replace it with dynamic LED screens, fewer in number, but bigger. We receive a commission on the advertising.”

With its DAS, Wi-Fi access points and advertising screens, Sinnock said what the Las Vegas Convention Center delivers in telecommunications service is far superior to any other convention center.

Hugh Sinnock spoke on March 27 at the International Wireless Communication Expo’s Network Infrastructure Forum during the in-building wireless session moderated by the author.