Wi-Fi limits Tennis Australia"s wireless ambitions

Von Rodney Gedda

Despite being at the forefront of technology adoption, most of the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park remains Wi-Fi free due to reflection problems associated with the courts, Tennis Australia"s IT manager Chris Simpfendorfer told Computerworld.

Tennis Australia has looked into "blanketing" the entire Melbourne Park site with Wi-Fi for the convenience of officials and journalists but Simpfendorfer said one of the difficulties faced is that the mesh around the outside of our tennis courts is a natural reflector to the wireless waves "so we almost have to put in as many base stations as data points anyway".

"We are using wireless across the site in a number of different locations, for example in the media work room so all the journalists can access the Web," he said, adding that Tennis Australia also uses wireless in administration.

"We are just a [short-term] tenant in this venue [Melbourne Park], so with a lot of the infrastructure it isn"t something that I can just go and drop 10 cables into a corner and use them knowing this room is going to need 10 machines," Simpfendorfer said.

"Instead, there is only one data point [so] it"s far easier for me to drop in an access point and have everybody running wirelessly. We do use wireless across the venue but it"s just not plausible to use the current technology on the site for an 802.11 protocol."

Wi-Fi networking equipment vendor Netgear"s national ISP manager Ryan Parker said there are a number of technologies that can help Tennis Australia overcome reflection problems.

Reflection of 802.11 signals is not easily overcome, Parker said, but the Wi-Fi vendors are introducing MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology - initially to the consumer market - which improves range by increasing the number of antennae on the access point. Netgear plans to introduce a seven-antenna access point.

"MIMO will send signals around corners and interference will be less of an issue, making it ideal for environments which aren"t exactly Wi-Fi friendly," Parker said. Although this technology is yet to be ratified as a standard, Parker believes it will enter the business market within 12 months.

Parker said implementing Wi-Fi across an entire site does look easy, but you can get areas which are natural reflectors.

Another option for Tennis Australia may be Autocell technology, which Parker said makes deployments easier across difficult sites.

"Autocell technology will probably solve most of Tennis Australia"s problems," he said. "This technology can see where the access points are located and they then report back if they get interference. The signal strength is then automatically adjusted."

For Tennis Australia"s dilemma of being a Melbourne Park tenant for a short time during the year, Parker said Power over Ethernet enables a wireless infrastructure to be dropped in and redeployed somewhere else quickly.