Case Study: London Symphony Orchestra fine tunes Wi-Fi

London Symphony Orchestra deploys Xirrus technologies at its St Luke’s venue in central London

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) has deployed a wireless network at one of its key venues to offer better connectivity for musicians and visitors.

Founded in 1904, the orchestra has spent the last century building a reputation not just for its music, but for its work in the community, offering educational programmes and a venue for use by the public.

The LSO’s main base is at the Barbican Centre, but it also runs a more commercial outfit at St Luke’s on Old Street in central London, offering itself as a private and corporate events space, on top of musical workshops and recording sessions.

It was keen to bring the facility up to date for its patrons, especially when it came to connectivity.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen attitudes towards wireless change,” said Quentin Bradley, ICT manager at the LSO. “Staff, guests and members of the public view it as an expected service, like heat, light and water.”

“We’ve also seen an increase in the technology requirements of many conferences and events, as organisers use internet-based products and mobile applications which require high-performance Wi-Fi in order to work faultlessly.”

The LSO had already deployed a Wi-Fi solution five years ago, but using consumer equipment without proper support in place.

“Our old Wi-Fi began to struggle due to additional RF shielding caused by a new metal structural installation in the main hall.  It was unable to cope with the interference caused by additional radio microphone transmitters and it was not sensitive enough to cope with the high density of wireless devices that we are now seeing at conferences and events,” added Bradley.

“Plus, our clients are beginning to select venues based on the quality of Wi-Fi provision and we were simply not able to guarantee the service with our original solution.”

The LSO underwent a process to garner what was available on the market and chose Xirrus to deploy access points across its venue. But, unlike more modern conference spaces, the grade one listed building came with its own unique set of issues for the technology to overcome.

“The church has thick stone walls and a reinforced concrete slab between the basement and ground floor, as well as a free-standing internal metal structural skeleton,” explained Bradley. “This layout and building structure had implications on the strength of wireless signal.”

Staff, guests and members of the public view [Wi-Fi] as an expected service, like heat, light and water

Quentin Bradley, ICT manager at the LSO

However, Xirrus had technologies designed to overcome such barriers, having worked in historical buildings before such as Alexandra Palace. After two months making its final decision and trialling the tech, the LSO was convinced the system would work and underwent deployment.

“Xirrus spent a day conducting an RF survey of the building to map potential coverage and recommend access point placement,” explained Bradley. “Installation and provisioning had to be timed to coincide with a scheduled LSO St Luke’s maintenance period but once we got going the process took about two weeks, [mostly] due to running additional CAT5 cable to service the Xirrus access points.”

“The physical installation and basic software configuration of the Xirrus equipment took a few days and then the optimisation took an additional day.”

Now the venue has high-speed Wi-Fi connections available from the main entrance, through to the concert halls, cafés, offices and conference spaces.

Bradley was specifically impressed with how it helped the musicians who use increasingly complex tools as part of their art.

“With musicians using applications and live streaming during performances and visitors expecting seamless access to digital applications, Wi-Fi usage is dictated on an event-by-event basis and we want to be using it as fully as we can,” he said.

“Wi-Fi is critical to demonstrate applications in rehearsal or teaching sessions, and DJs and musicians require wireless access so they can stream playlists using services such as Spotify.”

Now the system is up and running, Bradley is looking to the future with Wi-Fi providing a number of new opportunities for the LSO rather than just a connection to the internet.

“With the network running so smoothly, we’re now looking at charging models for Wi-Fi access as it presents new revenue opportunities to the LSO,” he said. “We’re also looking to set up event-specific SSIDs and customer-branded landing pages, as well as additional third-party services during events.”

Once these new ideas have been implemented, Bradley will judge their successes and consider replicating the rollout of this smaller venue to its main hub at the Barbican.

Sean Larner, vice president of the international business at Xirrus, added: “The installation at LSO St Luke’s is an example of how event venues are turning to Wi-Fi to provide an outstanding visitor experience in technically demanding environments.”

“We’re seeing more event venues tap into Wi-Fi as a way to improve their service to customers, and to cater for the growing demand to access digital content and applications during performances – whether that’s musicians or members of the public.”

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