Multiple antenna systems that move all voice and data services through a single network boost customer service in casinos like the Beau Rivage in Biloxi and provide added value to guests

Beau Rivage casino-resort in Biloxi, Miss., recently installed a system from InnerWireless.

Talk around the gaming industry currently centers on the interconnected casino floor, which would offer customers more and better gaming options. This technology remains a couple years off from widespread implementation.

Yet another form of interconnectivity that improves communications not only in the casino area, but also throughout the entire hotel or resort property is available today. And casinos are embracing these advanced wireless systems not only to keep closer contact with staffers, but also to provide added value for customers.

The advantages of adding these wireless communications systems to casino properties are obvious, said Bill Holman, senior vice president/sales at InnerWireless Inc. of Richardson, Texas.“Since the wireless revolution began, the one big impediment is dead spots in buildings and other areas where radio-based signals are blocked and phones go silent,” Holman said.

To alleviate this problem, casinos need a good distributive antenna system (DAS) that can handle the many different radio frequencies (RFs) on which communications signals may ride, he added. For this need, InnerWireless offers its Horizon unified broadband wireless distribution platform.

DAS systems work through the use of strategically placed smaller antennas that connect to a larger antenna that links to the outside world through a base station. The smaller antennas are embedded in the ceiling where they are out of sight, and thus do not mar the casino’s décor with unsightly cables and other hardware. Proper placement of these smaller antennas assures persuasive signal strength coverage even in RF-unfriendly areas as below ground floors, stairwells and elevators.

The Horizon system allows up to eight communications devices to simultaneously access an antenna. With the addition of carrier-grade components, Horizon’s passive edge coverage ensures consistent signal levels for optimal device connectivity.

And the hardware doesn’t take up much room. The antennas fit compactly above ceilings, and the base station occupies a 3-square-foot area.

Horizon is engineered to handle radio signals on all the frequencies that might be used in a casino property. These include the compact two-way Motorola handsets used by housekeeping and room service crews, Nextel phones, low-band public service radios, and PCS and cellular telephones that guests and employees use for personal calls. Having all signals pass through a single carrier eliminates the need for casinos to install separate systems for two-way radios and cellular telephones.

A most recent addition to Horizon is Wi-Fi Internet access.

“Not too many years ago, the ability to plug a laptop computer into an in-room jack to link to the Internet was a technological advance. But now guests don’t want to be limited to working on their laptop at the desk nearest the jack. They may want to work on the bed, in a conference room, or even at a table in an on-premises restaurant.” Holman said.

It was the ability to guarantee mission- and life-critical wireless communications that appealed to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. It decided to add the Horizon system when it renovated the property after Hurricane Katrina. During the 2005 hurricane, first-responder rescue and medical personnel reported that their two-way radios didn’t work everywhere within the building. So parent company MGM Mirage and Beau Rivage vowed that this situation would never occur again, said Beau Rivage director of technology Keith Johnson.

The multiple-access Horizon system now covers every nook and cranny (even elevators and stairwells) of the Beau Rivage property, which at 32 stories tall and covering 3.2 million square feet is the tallest and largest building in the state of Mississippi. That the system is installed out of sight, yet provides extra amenities – some that won’t be added to other casinos for years to come – for its support staffers and customer communications devices is a plus, Johnson said.

Hospitality Network, offered by Las Vegas-based Cox Business, also offers added communications services, although not all of them are wireless.

With this package of communications services, hotel- and resort-based casinos can provide total connectibility for customers' cellular/PCS telephones. However, it offers both hard-wired and wireless Internet connections.

“Not everyone is Wi-Fi enabled, and some business travelers for security reasons are forbidden to access the Internet on wireless systems,” said John Fountain, vice president of technology at Cox Business. “So with the Hospitality Network, we install both Internet access ports in rooms, but also enable high-speed access by Wi-Fi. But to use the latter, customers must register with the hotel to gain access, and hotels have the option to charge an additional fee for using its Wi-Fi service.”

The Wi-Fi service serves not only enabled laptop computers, but also Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs, iPods and similar devices, Fountain said.

Hospitality Network also offers Internet TV, on which guests can use a wireless infrared keyboard to surf the Internet on their in-room television set, and to read and send personal e-mail.

Other features of the Cox system include such coaxial cable-delivered services as in-room cable TV, Video-on-Demand, Music-on-Demand, and Interactive Games. Interactive Guest Services enable guests to not only get information on any on-premises service, but to browse restaurant menus, place dinner or golf reservations, and order merchandise and room service.

Businesses and trade groups staging conventions or trade shows can add meeting-specific video presentations on the cable TV system, Fountain said. This last feature is being promoted by the new Encore at Wynn Las Vegas to get the convention trade.

Numerous wireless voice and data services also are supported over the MobileAccess Universal Wireless Network offered by Sprint Converged Network Solutions, Based in Overland Park, Kan. These include mobile phones, BlackBerry devices, PDAs and Wi-Fi enabled laptop computers, which move these signals simultaneously over a multiple antenna system.

The Sprint multi-carrier system also is put to other uses in some casinos.

The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City uses its system to minimize the downtime at slot machines.

When a guest hits a jackpot, an alert is sent directly to the handset of a slot technician, who checks the incoming code numbers. Based on the more than 1,000 different combinations, he knows exactly which slot machine needs a payout and for exactly how much money. In that way, a customer gets paid faster and the slot is back in play quickly.

Borgata security personnel also put the system to good use. With the system, security personnel are equipped with camera phones that can instantly relay photos of problems requiring immediate action, or even photos of potential miscreants that can be sent to other on-floor security people to keep an eye on, or even show the door.

Sprint recently signed contracts to install its Wire-It-Once wireless communications architecture in the M Resort Spa and Casino being built in Las Vegas.

Probably the most technologically advanced wireless systems will be in the MGM Mirage's $8 billion CityCenter, which is scheduled to open late next year in Las Vegas.

CityCenter will include the largest distributed antenna system in the world, covering more than 14 million square feet, and will include more than 6,500 antennas coupled with more than 2,900 wireless access points that will enable Wi-Fi connectivity in every square inch of the campus. Wireless Internet connectivity will be eight times faster (128 kilobytes) than the average U.S. guestroom today. One gigabyte of bandwidth can be access through a fiber-optic connected jack in every room. Wireless connections will enable guest to contact guests in other rooms, or simply to have the mini bar replenished, a CityCenter spokesman said.

Other advanced technological features will enable the hotels to wirelessly send signals to rooms to greet the new guest when he first enters. As the guest enters, lights will turn on, curtains will automatically part, and the TV set will turn on to display a list of automated controls for guests to personalize.