Wi-Fi comes to Balboa Park, San Diego

Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo, as well as museums and cultural centers, has just deployed a large Wi-Fi hot zone for use by visitors. The Balboa Online Collaborative, the IT services arms of Balboa Park, built the network using Ruckus Wireless access points. The need for high-density Wi-Fi – both indoors and outdoors – stemmed from the growing use of mobile devices and applications by a large number of the park’s more than 10 million annual visitors. Mobile traffic to the park’s website increased 150% September 2011 over September 2010.

Of particular importance is Balboa Park’s popular “December Nights” event, a two-day holiday celebration that attracts 300,000 visitors, and which for the first time this year offered a smartphone app and mobile guide to provide an optimum and interactive experience for attendees.

“The museums and other recreation centers at Balboa Park have seen a major shift over the past couple years, as more and more people are coming with mobile devices,” said Scott Granger, IT director for Balboa Online Collaborative. “To meet their needs, our staff has developed several mobile applications as a way to give people a more dynamic and flexible tour than traditional audio tours provide, allowing people to go at their own pace, take a different route, or stream video along the way. All of this has put increased demands on the local cellular networks, which aren’t always able to keep up. For us, providing a robust, comprehensive Wi-Fi network was critical, and Ruckus delivered.”

Prior to deploying Ruckus, Balboa Park had a few HP wireless access points scattered in various points of the park, particularly at a handful of kiosks and museums, but coverage was not pervasive, and didn’t offer broadband access outdoors. The Wi-Fi network has changed all of that.

To cover a large, 400-acre area, including 10 buildings and several large outdoor spaces, Balboa Online Collaborative purchased and deployed 50 Ruckus ZoneFlex 7962 dual-band 802.11n indoor access points (APs), 10 ZoneFlex 7762 dual-band 802.11n outdoor APs, and one ZoneDirector 3050 centralized WLAN controller. Most of the APs are hard-wired to the park’s fiber network or through Power over Ethernet (PoE), although a few outdoor APs are deployed in a mesh configuration.

“We looked at several Wi-Fi vendors before choosing Ruckus,” said Granger. “Of all the systems we looked at, Ruckus’ unique antenna technology was the only one that specifically addressed Wi-Fi performance, and was the best to address our coverage and capacity needs. Additionally, the APs are highly customizable and allowed us great flexibility in placement and other aesthetic options to keep the natural beauty of the park.”

Future plans for the network are to broaden its coverage area, including the San Diego Zoo, while also using it to support food and beverage purchases at outdoor kiosks, and to accept donations patrons want to make on their smartphones.