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Historic resort fixes wireless gap: cellular coverage upgraded to provide staff and guests unfettered service.

The focus at The Greenbrier, a national historic landmark established in 1778, has always been on providing luxury in an historic setting, but its technology services have lagged over the years. Now, the resort, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains in White Sulphur Springs, W[V., has launched a program designed to ensure that its technological capabilities are on par with its charm and its heritage. The first effort under this program has been to deploy an in-building wireless solution that supports multiple cellular carriers, eliminates coverage holes in public and "back-of-the-house" areas, and upgrades wireless voice and data services.

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The resort's managers had been using BlackBerry 8330 smart phones and other employees had been given voice phones of various brands from U.S. Cellular. Managers were offered access to e-mail and calendaring services via Exchange Server and BlackBerry servers in the resort's data center, but cellular coverage was so spotty that these employees were not taking full advantage of these services. Coverage for guests tailed off when they were in areas such as the spa, indoor pool, or conference and exhibition center.

Part of The Greenbrier's charm is its lush green setting on 6,500 acres in West Virginia, but that was also part of the problem. The resort is located in a rural area where the nearest cell towers are about three miles away. Outdoors and in the 700 guest rooms, guests and workers got adequate coverage from AT&T, Sprint, U.S. Cellular and Verizon, but the sloping site made getting a signal on the lower, eastern side of the structure difficult. This area houses facilities such as the indoor pool, meeting rooms and kitchen.

Another underground facility was an exhibit hall in a bunker built in the 1950s as the place to which the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives could retreat in the event of a national emergency. Built to house roughly 1,000 people, the bunker features House and Senate chambers, as well as sleeping accommodations for members of Congress and their staffs. The bunker also had a legacy radio link via a 2-inch coaxial cable that ran through the bunker's six-foot walls, through a basement utility raceway in The Greenbrier's main building and up to a rooftop antenna.

Mike Keatley, The Greenbrier's IT director, knew that the resort would be closed for general renovations during the first quarter of 2007, so he decided it would be an ideal time to upgrade cellular coverage. "The main problem was that the cellular signal tailed off when you moved toward the inside of the building or underground," he says. "We wanted to fix that and to upgrade coverage for all of the carriers in the area. The upgrade was really to provide better multicarrier coverage for our guests, but we also wanted to enable push-to-talk services for our staff."

CARRIERS CONSULTED FIRST

Keatley and his team first consulted with Cingular Wireless. He also asked U.S. Cellular, the facility's corporate provider, to offer a solution of its own.

"We wanted to provide voice and data coverage everywhere with a multicarrier infrastructure, so we could bring several different carriers onto the system," says Keatley. "We also wanted a solution that would leverage our existing multimode fiber, which runs throughout the main building."

In addition, the solution had to be easily deployable, not only to fit within the three-month renovation window but also to minimize disturbances to the building's ornate and historic interior.

When U.S. Cellular presented a solution that would not work with the existing multimode fiber, Keatley and his team chose the InterReach Fusion system from LGC Wireless. LGC Wireless (since acquired by ADC) has supplied hundreds of Cingular and AT&T customers across America, so Keatley felt confident in the choice.

LGC Wireless engineers opted to use roof-mounted antennas to capture signals and then bring them via coax cabling to repeaters mounted in the resort's data center. This also shortened the deployment window, since the resort did not have to wait for carriers to bring in base stations.

Another benefit of this approach was that LGC could use the existing 2.5-inch conduit (which held the legacy radio link from the bunker) that ran from the roof of the main building. Installers simply removed the old coaxial cabling from its conduit and pulled new CAT-5 cables to connect the new rooftop antennas to the basement utility raceway. From the basement, the coax links to broadband distribution amplifiers (BDAs) and two InterReach Fusion main hubs in the resort's data center.

From the main hubs, existing multimode fiber connects to seven expansion hubs, which were placed in wiring closets, as well as on walls in the bowling alley and indoor pool. From the expansion hubs, RG6 (CATV) cabling runs to 12 remote antennas covering the conference rooms, exhibition center, indoor pool and spa, ballrooms, theater, and lower lobbies, as well as the kitchen and other back-of-the-house areas.

Since the main and expansion hubs were linked via existing multimode fiber, pulling new cable or disrupting existing walls was not necessary. Each remote antenna is connected to an expansion hub using thin RG6 cabling that was pulled within existing utility raceways.

COVERAGE PROBLEMS DISAPPEAR

Overall, the system cost $120,000, and was delivered on time and on budget. "LGC Wireless had the whole system installed and operational in about six weeks," says Keatley. "It worked as promised from the first day."

The Fusion system delivered 800 MHz to 850 MHz service for U.S. Cellular and Cingular. When the property re-opened, coverage problems for these carriers disappeared.

The coverage now means staff can depend on their phones and BlackBerry devices to communicate. E-mail traffic is up significantly, and, overall, the staff communicates more efficiently, according to Keatley. For guests using U.S. Cellular and AT&T, there are no more worries about dropped calls or poor connections.

"People who come to resorts like this expect to have every convenience," says Keatley, "and that means having their cellular phones work wherever they are. Deploying this system has given us the opportunity to expand our cellular coverage so that phones just work wherever the user happens to be."

Since the initial deployment, the Greenbrier has added Verizon Wireless service. Keatley's team has also been working with AT&T to add 1900 MHz coverage (which will also support T-Mobile users), and with local provider NTelos to support Sprint/Nextel users.

Charles Rubin is a freelance writer based in Northern California.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Focus: Wireless
Author:Rubin, Charles
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:1084
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