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Upgrades give Convention Center a tool to attract business

When the Higher Education Web Professionals’ annual conference convenes, attendees with their numerous electronic devices have always crashed the hosting convention center’s network.

But after a recent $500,000 technology upgrade, the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center became the first site to handle the technology demands of the group of 750 without a glitch.

“It was the only conference we encountered where there wasn’t a wireless issue; everybody was amazed,” said Mark Greenfield, chairman of the conference and University at Buffalo’s director of Web services.

“The Convention Center did a tremendous job meeting our needs.”

With a technology grant from Empire State Development and Erie County, the Convention Center was outfitted with high-speed Internet, increased by a factor of 10; 240 data ports; 70 wireless access points providing free WiFi that can accommodate up to 7,000 devices.

With the extensive upgrade, the Convention Center hopes to attract more groups to the area.

“We plan to use the technology as a carrot to bring more conventions to Buffalo,” said Paul Murphy, director of the Convention Center. “We want to use it to get more business.”

Before the upgrades, Murphy said, the facility had “very limited wireless connectivity,” a third party provided its hard line Internet service, a couple of WiFi hot spots that could only accommodate 200 devices before crashing.

“We had a deficiency in what we were offering clients and what they were looking for,” Murphy said.

Among the improvements, the Convention Center now operates its hard line Internet, which will be savings to convention groups, he added.

Work began in June and included rewiring of all public spaces and adding a high-density wireless network spanning the building’s 110,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, he said.

The Convention Center won the Higher Education Web Professionals’ conference two years ago with its technology upgrade plans.

“It really helps because the convention business is very competitive. There’s a list of things of every group is looking for,” Murphy said. “This becomes a competitive advantage.”

From his experience, Greenfield said the upgrades can’t be found elsewhere.

Conference attendees came from across the country and parts of the world, and each brought at least three devices. They also used social media throughout the four-day conference. Greenfield said 17,000 tweets were sent during the event.

“People were tweeting ‘the WiFi rocks,’ and they didn’t knock down the network,” Murphy said.