Pechanga is Betting on Wireless

By David Haskin

July 09, 2003

This California casino and resort is betting that its WLAN will attract conferences and conventions.

Rod Luck is betting that a wireless local area network (WLAN) will attract business travelers to the Pechanga Resort and Casino .

"We're trying to get conventions and business travelers and a lot of them ask if we have wireless," said the aptly-named Luck, IT director for the 522-room facility in Temecula, Calif., east of Los Angeles.

As a result, deploying the WLAN in the parts of the complex used for conferences and conventions was one of his department's first major projects after the resort and casino opened last year. . "We opened in June (2002) and in July and August we were installing wireless," he said. "We did it as soon as the hotel and casino were stabilized."

However, while the WLAN now is in wide use by conference attendees, Pechanga's deployment also points to how the current lack of strong WLAN security standards has the potential to slow adoption by end users.

Luck said the wireless deployment itself was relatively easy, although he took an unusual step to save money.

"We had a 3Com engineer come and do a site survey," Luck said. "That person drew up a diagram of where the access points should be."

Following the survey, Luck's team installed eight fixed access points in places where large numbers of people gather, such as the ballroom. The units are 3Com's Access Point 8000, which adhere to the 802.11b standard.

However, Luck said adding access points to cover the facility's many smaller conference rooms and meeting areas would have been a budget buster, so his group placed another six access points on rolling carts. If a group requests wireless coverage and is in a room not served by fixed access points, a member of Luck's staff rolls one in.

"There is cable in the walls of all the meeting rooms, so we just bring the cable out to the access point after we roll it in," he said. "That eliminated some costs."

He noted that his IT shop treats the rolling access points like any audio/visual aid. In fact, Pechanga's IT shop manages audio/visual services, including such old-line equipment as overhead projectors. As is typical with such equipment, Pechanga charges conference organizers for use of the wireless network, but Luck said that the charge is nominal -- typically between $100 and $300 a day, depending on usage.

"We're just trying to cover our expenses," he said.

Deployment of the wireless network took between two to three weeks. "We're pretty quick around here," Luck said. So far, he has run into no surprises. In particular, there hasn't been a single problem with interference.

Setup for users is relatively easy -- if they have the right equipment. Besides a wireless network adapter, all they need is an IP address for the network, which typically is set either by the attendee's IT shop or is set automatically by the operating system using DHCP. However, Luck said his staff provides support for users who need it.

"The support calls we get are mostly from Windows 98 and 2000," he said, noting that Windows XP handles connecting to wireless LANs more adroitly. "But we don't get many calls -- maybe not even ten a month."

To ensure the security of the company's internal network, Luck said the wireless network used by conference attendees is entirely separate. However, another security issue has the potential to lessen usage and shows how hard it can be, given the current state of wireless security, to put a WLAN in public places.

Specifically, Pechanga's WLAN uses 3Com equipment that uses that company's proprietary Dynamic Security Link (DSL), a 128-bit encryption scheme. The user's WLAN network adapter must support that protocol, which most 3Com adapters do. However, adapters from other vendors don't support DSL.That is potentially a problem since, obviously, 3Com is only one of several vendors of WLAN network adapters. Luck claimed that, so far, no conference attendees have complained. And, if it does become a problem, Luck said his shop rents 3Com NIC to users for about $10 a day.

Since the organization's original intention was to serve only conference and convention attendees, Luck said he considers Pechanga's WLAN to be fully deployed -- for now. He said that the organization's back office is wired, and there is no need to deploy the WLAN there.

Unlike many hotels, Luck said he is keeping WLAN coverage out of the lobby and guest rooms.

"We don't want to clog up the lobby," Luck said. "And we have wired broadband access in the guest rooms." As is the case with many business hotels these days, guests pay a daily fee for wired broadband access in guest rooms.

Nor is there wireless coverage in the casino, but that will change in time, according to Luck. A WLAN there would enable casino employees to walk around with wireless-enabled handheld devices that access casino-specific software. When they find an active player on the floor, or somebody who is likely to spend a lot, they could look that person up.

"Then, we could decide how best to market to those people," Luck said. "We can find out what kind of player they are and whether we can give them something complementary."

However, the casino can't deploy that application wirelessly because the California Gaming Commission must approve use of specific applications via a WLAN, and that has not yet occurred.

"The gaming commission has approved some casino systems, but our particular software hasn't been approved yet," Luck said. He had no doubt, however, that the commission eventually would approve the software. "It's the trend of the future," he said of the wireless casino application.

In the meantime, Luck said that he is very pleased with the role the WLAN plays in attracting conferences and conventions.

"People use it all the time -- the number is probably in the thousands since it was installed last fall," Luck said. "It definitely enhances our ability to attract business."

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