Utilizing UniFi for a Weekend Conference
Unlike competing conferences in the field of emergency medicine, NCEMSF takes pride in keeping conference registration fees low to maximize the value to conference attendees. The NCEMSF staff is 100% volunteer and comprised of various backgrounds. With a volunteer staff and low registration fees, NCEMSF adheres to a strict and tight budget when it comes to its information technology (IT) infrastructure. One issue faced regularly by any conference or convention host, including NCEMSF, is the cost of internet access in a conference facility. Bandwidth costs are many times higher than that of commercial internet service providers (ISPs) who provide internet service to residences and businesses. As a result of the excessive cost of leased WiFi, NCEMSF has taken a novel approach to providing internet access throughout the various conference facilities it utilizes; the Foundation deploys its own WiFi network throughout the host facility’s convention area prior to the conference each year.
The conference travels between various cities and venues, so there is no copy-and-paste IT solution. The requirements of the network include stretching expansive conference floors, covering multiple levels, penetrating walls, and extending down long hallways. Past IT solutions have included consumer-grade hardware, open source firmware, and a combination of lengthy Ethernet runs with residential class access points (APs) at the ends of these runs. Following the February 2014 conference, the NCEMSF IT staff assessed a need for a commercial-grade solution to replace the consumer grade products previously deployed. The review of hardware included products from Dell and Cisco as well as Ubiquiti. Following the recommendation Buchan Consulting LLC's Douglas Buchan, NCEMSF reached out to Ubiquiti networks to pilot their Unifi Access Points, Unifi Controller Software, and ToughSwitch hardware.
The minimum requirement for NCEMSF was to have wireless connectivity in all conference facility hallways to provide digital room signage with a reliable connection to NCEMSF’s central conference server and the internet. In addition to digital room signage, the conference’s registration area required a high bandwidth WiFi signal to accommodate 8-10 registration kiosks and WiFi enabled printers. Additionally, NCEMSF desired to have a reliable WiFi signal in its conference rooms for speakers to access the internet for the purpose of presentation.
Ubiquiti’s UniFi access points were deployed with assistance from Buchan Consulting LLC at the Foundation’s February 2015 conference over a four hour setup period preceding conference registration. NCEMSF’s IT staff were able to cover the entire conference hall and registration area using both wired and wirelessly deployed APs. Utilizing WiFi signal testing devices and speed testing applications, IT personnel were able to deploy a reliable network with a strong signal that accommodated all of NCEMSF’s requirements as well as providing a strong WiFi signal for the presenters in the conference rooms.
NCEMSF’s IT staff, previously unfamiliar with Ubiquiti’s hardware, marveled at the ease of deployment, cost of the hardware, and the full featured software controller. Staff with backgrounds in Microsoft and Cisco found Ubiquiti’s hardware to have an enterprise-grade set of administrative tools and were impressed by the no-cost controller software model.
The Unifi Controller Software provided a useful means by which to visualize the network using the mapping feature. IT staff were able to monitor connections to the network, restrict bandwidth on devices that didn't need high speeds, and prioritize network access for the machines that needed it. From the user perspective, wireless signal was easy to find at any point in the facility, and connections happened seamlessly.
Impressed with the hardware and software offerings of Ubiquiti Networks, the National Collegiate EMS Foundation intends to purchase additional hardware in the future to ensure continued success of the Foundation’s network infrastructure at future conferences and facilities.