Telecom Ottawa hotel installation wins Telemanagement Live prize Broadband networking over electrical wiring was a hot ticket a few years ago—more in the home than the enterprise, perhaps, but corporate applications were on the horizon. Then Wi-Fi happened. Wireless LAN (WLAN) equipment prices plummeted, and Wi-Fi became an economic no-brainer, both for home and office. Home power-line networking withered on the vine, and little more was heard about enterprise Broadband over Power Line (BPL).Enterprise power-line technology didn’t go away, though. As Telecom Ottawa demonstrated recently, BPL still has a place. Telecom Ottawa chief operating officer David Dobbin won the IP Project of the Year Award at last October’s Telemanagement Live conference in Toronto for the company’s ground-breaking implementation of a Broadband over Power Line Internet access system at the Ramada Inn in Cornwall, Ontario. In this second of a two-part series, we look at three more Telemanagement Live award winners, including an impressive Wi-Fi implementation at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and a creative solution at De Beers Canada Inc. to a thorny network security problem. But the most intriguing of the three is Telecom Ottawa’s power-line project, which like most other winners, came in both on time and on budget. First Deployment"Ours was the first commercial deployment of BPL in Canada," Dobbin says. "The city of Sault Ste. Marie now has a market trial going, but we’ve been using BPL at the Cornwall Ramada since last summer." The Ramada, a full-service hotel with 115 rooms, wanted to provide broadband Internet access in guest rooms and hired Telecom Ottawa, a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa, the power utility in the nation’s capital, to implement a system. Telecom Ottawa maintains a fibre network in Ottawa, which it uses to provide a range of business networking services. "For the hotel industry, broadband access is becoming a must-have," Dobbin notes. "First, rooms had to have a coffee maker; now it’s high-speed Internet." Telecom Ottawa considered rewiring with Cat 5 Ethernet cabling or deploying a Wi-Fi network. The building, however, was largely constructed using cinder blocks, which made rewiring for Ethernet an expensive proposition, and Wi-Fi difficult to engineer. BPL, which Telecom Ottawa had been experimenting with for some time, turned out to be the best fit. "If we’d spent enough money, we could have put in Ethernet," Dobbin says, "but BPL was about one-third the price. Wireless would have cost about the same as BPL, but the nature of the hotel’s construction made wireless coverage spotty. We do use Wi-Fi in conference areas." The power-line technology comes from a Canadian company, Electrolinks Corp. of Markham, Ontario. Telecom Ottawa also looked at U.S.-based vendors, including Current Technologies and Main.net, but decided Electrolinks offered a superior product. "We were also much more comfortable dealing with a Canadian company," Dobbin says. The Electrolinks gateway device—only one was needed—sits in an electrical closet and connects at the building perimeter to a fibre link to the Internet. Inside the building, it delivers 14 megabits per second (Mbps) of raw bandwidth, which translates to between 1.5 and 2 Mbps in each room, Dobbin says. The Electrolinks equipment includes 128-bit encryption and also gives hotels the ability to throttle bandwidth to each room. Guests plug their computers into an Electrolinks BPL modem, using either the modem’s Ethernet or its USB 2.0 interface. Hotels can also provision VoIP service over an Electrolinks BPL network. ReliabilityTelecom Ottawa started with a trial deployment in a few rooms in February 2004 to make sure the equipment worked as advertised, then went ahead with full implementation, which it did itself, before launching commercial service in June. The implementation was not without challenges, but the network has been rock solid, Dobbin says. "The network works very well," he says. "We’ve not had one minute of outage since it went up." The challenges included ensuring the interface with the electricity grid was done properly. "If you install it wrong," Dobbin explains, "you can create electricity problems. We have an advantage there because Hydro Ottawa is our sister company, but you still have to get the Electrical Safety Authority to look at it. You don’t want to endanger anybody’s safety." Power Line AdvantagesThe electrical environment is also "incredibly harsh" for networking, he says. "It’s very noisy. When someone turns on their hair dryer, you can have problems." The single noisiest device—in the networking sense—is the air conditioner, a common enough hotel room appliance. Overcoming the noise problem is a matter of tuning the network. When that tuning is done well, BPL has a range of 600 to 700 meters from the main switch box, versus 100 meters for Ethernet cabling. That’s just one of a couple of advantages BPL has over competing technologies that keeps it in the running in many situations. Another is that it installs very quickly. One gateway is often all it takes. "You install it by the electrical panel and the hotel is lit!" Dobbin says. BPL also supports multiple SSIDs (Service Set IDentifiers, or network names) in hotels, so the same infrastructure can be used for internal applications as well. BPL vs Wi-FiA Wi-Fi network, on the other hand, requires multiple access points, each of which has to be cabled back to a central controller. "A number of commercial landlords right now are talking to us partly because of their problems with cable riser management," Dobbin says. "They hate it, which is one reason they welcome BPL—now you don’t have cable riser management issues."BPL makes sense in a number of situations: in heritage buildings where even the rewiring required for a wireless network would not be possible, and also in any situation where Wi-Fi doesn’t work because of interference problems—such as in cinder block buildings. "There are lots of places where Wi-Fi is almost unusable because of interference," Dobbin notes. He believes BPL is also somewhat more secure than Wi-Fi simply because signals can’t be intercepted over the air. But BPL is a long way from being a broadband networking panacea, as Dobbin is the first to acknowledge. In fact, Telecom Ottawa is just as heavily invested in Wi-Fi, most visibly with its Wireless Zone Wi-Fi hot zone in downtown Ottawa. In many more situations, Wi-Fi is clearly superior to BPL. It can provide true mobility; it’s faster; especially with 802.11a and 802.11g technology; it’s not limited by the number of physical connection points; and except in special situations such as the Cornwall Ramada, it’s cheaper. Dobbin is also not a huge fan of BPL in applications where it uses the public electricity grid, although the company is working with that technology and at one time planned to use it to provide last mile connectivity to the Cornwall Ramada. It’s too expensive, certainly compared to Wi-Fi. "Wi-Fi is exceptionally cheap," he says. "For BPL to get to the same place, millions of units would have to be deployed." That said, there remain a few places where BPL is Telecom Ottawa’s first choice. The Cornwall Ramada remains the company’s only deployment to date, but it has others in the pipeline that it expects to announce soon, Dobbin says. MTCC’s Prize-Winning Mega-Wi-Fi NetworkWhile Broadband over Power Line supports Voice over IP (VoIP), Wi-Fi adds a vital dimension BPL cannot—mobility. For the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), Wi-Fi was really the only choice when the conference and trade show complex decided two years ago to build a multi-purpose, facility-wide network. For one thing, the new network had to be able to replace a decommissioned Nortel Companion cordless phone system. The network MTCC eventually built, using Wi-Fi gear from Chantry Networks of Mississauga, Ontario, (now a unit of Siemens) and Voice over WLAN phones from SpectraLink, won telecommunications manager Chris Taylor the Telemanagement Live Wireless Project of the Year Award. The award goes each year to an end user who is instrumental in the deployment of a significant wireless project. The MTCC network surely qualifies. "We’ve installed a wireless system throughout the convention centre’s two million square feet of space," says Taylor. "One million of that is public space. I think we won for size as much as anything. We’re big. The implementation included 42 of Chantry’s BeaconPoint access points. Then there was the scope of applications. We wanted to provide wireless Internet access to exhibitors, visitors, and staff, and provide wireless VoIP services as well." The project came in under budget, and thanks to the revenue generating opportunities it provides, Taylor expects it will pay for itself in about a year and a half. Installation began in January 2004. Ask him when it will be finished and he quips, "The day after tomorrow." Still to come is coverage in garage and loading dock areas. Ultimately the network will cover about 95% of the facility. The MTCC is Canada’s largest convention and trade show facility. It hosts more than 700 events annually, everything from big international conventions to small corporate meetings. The facility includes two separate buildings spread over six blocks. Today, the MTCC sells exhibitors Wi-Fi access for their booths—$395 for the duration of the show. MTCC staff use the network to access online applications when they’re away from the administrative offices, which for many of them is much of the time. About 95 of them carry portable VoWLAN phones from SpectraLink. There are also a few phones available to rent to exhibitors or visitors, although Taylor has yet to advertise their availability. A hotspot-style public access service for visitors is in the works. Thin Access PointWhen the convention centre began to plan the network, Taylor had the unique advantage of being able to see many different vendors’ products both at trade shows in the facility and in use by exhibitors. One reason for choosing Chantry was the ease of management with its "thin access point" architecture. The BeaconMaster router devices aggregate traffic from a number of BeaconPoints and relay management information to a single console in the data centre. The BeaconPoints automatically find and register with a BeaconMaster. Taylor’s staff need never go near the physical access points. They can even do software upgrades remotely. Another key capability was Chantry’s support for multiple virtual networks with different SSIDs and policies. This allows the MTCC to set up separate secure networks for individual exhibitor customers, for its own applications, for voice, and for the eventual hotspot service. Self-InstallationThe MTCC implemented the system itself with help from Chantry. This was a good decision, Taylor says. "Now we have a better perspective on and understanding of problems that come up. We know the network’s inner workings. If I’d had a system integrator come in and hand over the keys at the end of the process, there’s no question we would need more service calls now." Given that this was a relatively new product, there were a few bugs, he says, but all were fixed quickly. "For the most part, it was unbelievably easy to set up—almost like setting up a Linksys box in your home." Taylor did learn a few things from the process. Give yourself more time than you think you need, he says. "As easy as it is to install, it took a while." Also, prepare to refine your site survey during the installation. And if you’re doing the survey when the facility is empty, keep in mind that RF behaviour will change significantly when it fills up with people and equipment. DeBeers Wins for Secure Private Network When De Beers Canada Inc. and engineering consulting partner AMEC began working on the design and construction of De Beers’ Victor diamond mine project in remotest northern Ontario, the two companies faced some unique communications and security challenges. Their solution—building a Secure Private Network (SPN) at the AMEC facility, creating Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections to the mine, and using satellite, terrestrial wireless, and wireline to link sites—won De Beers Canada senior network administrator Oleg Khaev Telemanagement Live’s Most Innovative Project of the Year Award. Khaev is quick to point out that colleague Kevin Drolet, IS operations manager at AMEC, was also a key player. Engineers working on the Victor project are spread around three locations: De Beers’ Toronto offices, AMEC’s facility in Oakville, Ontario, and the mine site itself, west of Attawapiskat. To complicate things, some DeBeers engineers work at the AMEC office. The problem was how to provide engineers at all three sites with access to project-related data, while keeping unrelated De Beers and AMEC data strictly secure. De Beers and AMEC don’t compete, but AMEC does sometimes work for De Beers competitors. "We basically created a demilitarized zone where we can keep the project data, which allows both companies to control their own security," Khaev explains. Three Sites, Two NetworksThe SPN, which is managed by AMEC’s IT department, is a self-contained LAN with its own servers and shared printers and plotters. It connects to AMEC’s internal network and to a separate De Beers LAN at the AMEC site. Both the latter are protected by firewalls. Engineers at the mine site use a satellite link to access the SPN via the Internet over a VPN. Engineers at De Beers’ Toronto office access it over a T-1 connection. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it is. One unexpected challenge was getting an affordable high-speed link from the AMEC facility to satellite service provider InfoSat Communications Inc.’s nearest uplink site. The SPN project was under tight budget restrictions, especially for ongoing costs. A T-1 link was prohibitively expensive given the expected volume of traffic, and neither DSL nor cable services were available. So the project team turned to TeraGo Networks Inc., which provides wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint services over licensed 24 and 38 GHz bandwidth. "Right now, this is still a kind of unorthodox approach," Khaev concedes, "but if a solution works, it works—and this works fine." Using TeraGo is saving the project roughly $1,500 a month over the cost of a T-1. Two other Telemanagement Live award winners, Rick Adams (City of Coquitlam) and Glen Ryan (Johnson Insurance), were profiled in Telemanagement #222. For information on Telemanagement Live 2005, to be held in Toronto, October 17-19, go to www.telemanagementlive.com.