Lincoln Center Offers Free Wi-Fi

By Naomi Graychase

July 03, 2007

Heading out for a night of theater in New York? Take the laptop for extra entertainment.

As part of its multi-year redevelopment plans, Lincoln Center, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has deployed a free Wi-Fi network that will cover a 6.3-acre swath of its 16.3-acre campus, which includes 22 separate performance venues. The network will be open to the public, including the five million visitors who attend events there each year. 

"The idea for Wi-Fi at Lincoln Center arose as a result of a desire to better serve our patrons, visitors and neighbors," says Seema Reddy, vice president for consumer ventures at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. "The Wi-Fi network ideally makes the campus more welcoming to visitors. But, the network also provides us with a new channel through which we can communicate with our visitors. We hope to explore the future possibility of providing special content through the Wi-Fi network – for instance, performances that may be simultaneously streamed in the public spaces, audio and/or video clips of performances, interviews with performers, etc. Those are very exciting options that we hope to explore in the coming months and years."

After an RFP resulted in a partnership with Nokia in early April, Lincoln Center moved quickly to begin the deployment, which went live on June 19.

"We had ample time to test and fine-tune the network after the installation was complete and before the launch, so the formal launch of the network went very well," says Reddy.

Lincoln Center bills itself as "the world’s leading performing arts center." The complex is comprised of 12 Resident Organizations, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Juilliard School, Lincoln Center Theater, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the School of American Ballet.

The area blanketed by Wi-Fi consists mainly of three areas: the North Plaza, Josie Robertson Plaza and Damrosch Park.

"The North Plaza is a relatively open space with a reflecting pool that is surrounded by stone benches and an L-shaped configuration of planters with trees," says Reddy. "The Josie Robertson Plaza (also known as the Fountain Plaza) is a wide open space and perhaps the most iconic of Lincoln Center’s outdoor spaces. Lastly, Damrosch Park is a performing arts park with a bandshell, a large seating area and a concentrated grouping of trees in planters."

One of the concerns in the planning process was keeping the aesthetic beauty of the campus intact.

"From a technological standpoint, this network is very similar to any other mesh network deployed," says John Matthews of Nokia Siemens Networks. "In terms of its physical deployment, obviously, you're dealing with a landmark in New York City. Getting the access points to look as organic as possible was a priority, so we worked quite hard with Lincoln Center to make sure the APs are not noticeable to the average consumer."

In the initial roll-out, five BelAir Networks access points were deployed, with another three expected to go live later this year.

"The final plan is a total of eight access points," says Matthews, "but due to the ongoing construction work there involving the renovation, the initial deployment has been five across the campus. Three more will be added once the construction work is finished. The timetable is unknown."

In the first ten days, the network saw 500 unique visitors log in. More users are expected as word spreads about its availability.

"There are signs spread throughout the campus along the most highly trafficked pathways," says Reddy. "[And] there has been some public buzz about this. There have been several people walking around with laptops trying to see how far they can stretch the connection, which has helped raise the visibility of the network."

To prevent any one user from "bogarting" the bandwidth, Lincoln Center has implemented some limitations on use.

"In the interest of fairness to all our users (and to prevent anyone from abusing the system), we are currently limiting bandwidth to 512 Kbps download and 256 Kbps upload," says Reddy. "This is more than enough for most people's average Web usage, yet low enough to discourage people who might try to take advantage of the network as a full-time ISP."

With five million annual visitors, plus faculty, staff, students and general passersby potentially gaining access with their 802.11b/g-enabled devices, issues of scalability needed to be addressed.

"The Wi-Fi network, which is hosted using HP servers and open source software (Ubuntu, Chillispot and FreeRadius), is scalable to as many user connections as we see fit -- given our current usage/bandwidth ratio, it does not seem that capacity will be exceeded in the near future," says Reddy. 

Neither Lincoln Center nor Nokia Siemens would specify the cost of the deployment.

Originally published on .

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