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Show Managers Welcome Wi-Fi Upgrades at McCormick


Chicago, IL – Trade show managers had plenty of kudos for the upgraded Wi-Fi network at McCormick Place as well as a few caveats about making the best use of the new technology when it comes to the current overall state of mobile communications.

The much-anticipated system formally launches this Spring, but some of the larger exhibitions that call Chicago home took advantage of its soft launch in the Fall to better accommodate the ballooning customer demand from exhibitors, attendees and show management.

Chris Price, vice president of Graphic Arts Show Company, told Trade Show Executive: “At our most recent show, PRINT 13 in September, all of the routers had been replaced or upgraded with current and robust routers and technology both inside and outside the exhibit halls. There has been substantial improvement in connectivity.”

Price added that the complimentary Wi-Fi was “great for emailing and browsing.” He suggested, however, that exhibitors rely on the basic service for important consistent connections and presentations.”

David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place, said that the largest convention center in the U.S. could now service up to 45,000 visitors and their various smart phones, tablets and laptops. “That is critical in a world where exhibitors and attendees often carry multiple Wi-Fi-enabled devices on a regular basis,” he said.

The technology-heavy Annual Meeting and Scientific Assembly of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in December was possibly the most significant test of the new network. The show was awash in wireless activity carrying large volumes of data used in the many educational sessions in addition to the routine communications and use of the show app by thousands of attendees. Service contractors and exhibitors using their own Wi-Fi gear could add to the load. “Everybody out there wants to be on the network,” said RSNA Assistant Executive Director Steve Drew. “And there is no way you can optimize a Wi-Fi network until you get the audience there.”

Drew told TSE that the new network at McCormick Place was “state-of-the-art Cisco gear” and “worked really well.”

“It was pretty dramatic,” Drew said. “Thank goodness they came up with a big capital investment in this.”

Drew added that show managers needed to be aware that the constant changes in crowd density in the exhibit hall and session spaces can make it tricky to perfectly place and tune the access points in advance. The RSNA hired a private communications consultant to monitor the real-time data flows with a portable measuring device over the course of the show. That enabled the fine-tuning of the network equipment to accommodate the ebb and flow of the crowds. “Wi-Fi is one of those things where one size does not fit all,” Drew said.

One wild card is the current state of wireless technology and the mobile devices being carried by many attendees. McCormick Place is now well-equipped to handle newer devices operating in the 5 gigahertz (GHz) frequency range. Currently, however, many devices are still operating at the 2.4 GHz level, 2.4 GHz band is narrower and more crowded than the 5 GHz band. That will change as people upgrade to new 5 GHz devices over the coming years.

“Everyone has one or more wireless devices and they are all searching for access points,” said Spencer Moore, director of information management for RSNA. “That’s a lot of background noise.”

Reach David Causton at (312) 791-7000 or; Chris Price at (703) 264-7200, x221, or; Steve Drew at (630) 571-7879 or; Spencer Moore at (630) 571-7859 or

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