World cup looks to wireless

This summer, the greatest show on earth descends upon South Africa. Mark Dye speaks to those involved on how wireless is being used at the tournament

World cup looks to wireless
Unless youve been hiding under a rock, you couldnt have failed to notice furore surrounding David Beckhams Achilles tendon injury that has prevented him getting on a plane to South Africa this summer.
Now a nation waits with baited breath praying Wayne Rooney doesnt become Englands latest injury victim.

Thankfully, the World Cups IT and communications infrastructure isnt left to chance, with all participants in South Africa including the teams, officials, broadcasters, media and staff needing secure real-time telecommunications that rely heavily on wireless.

To put things into perspective, during the FIFA World Cup in 2006, more than 21 terabytes of voice and data traffic were transferred over the event network by the 32 teams, FIFA officials, local organising committee, media and other operational partners.
According to FIFA this translates to around eight years of continuous MP3 music and is the equivalent of the 24 million volumes of books, photographs, recordings and other information held by the worlds largest library, the US Library of Congress.

As one would expect, the demands come from the high level of mobility and flexibility that the user community now has at these forms of events, explains Dick Wiles, co-CEO of Match Event Services, who has been running FIFAs communications Solution since 1994.

Wiles believes the expectation is for IT and communications services to be available anytime at any location.

This creates a demand for a seamless solution that provides connectivity across all locations in a venue, he adds.

Meeting the data demands of a large number of spectators in a relatively small area will always require a high level of planning, both from network operators and the owners of the building or stadium involved, adds Dennis Mugwanya, VP of sales and marketing in Africa at Andrew Solutions, the company supporting wireless communications across five of the stadiums at the tournament.

He believes weve seen a huge increase in the level of network capacity required over recent years, from basic voice services through to the rapid growth in data consumption brought on by increased smartphone usage.
According to Mugwanya, a major consideration for the World Cup stadia involved distributing capacity to specific areas that require more bandwidth than other parts of a stadium.

For example, this means the emergency services and media centre have dedicated coverage and capacity to manage concentrated activity in those areas, as well as ensuring an even greater level of reliability.

An equally important consideration is to ensure a seamless handover from one area of the stadium to another so that calls are not dropped.

As spectators move around the stadium and move up and down different floors, its not uncommon to see an individual go through 15 separate handovers during one call, so a robust system needs to be in place to accommodate this.

To do the job, the stadia are using a multi-operator ION-M optical distributed antenna system from Andrew Solutions that supports current GSM 900/1800 and UMTS frequency bands as well as next generation LTE and WiMAX networks.

With its flexible design and high power output easily customised to the unique spatial requirements of each stadium, it helps to overcome signal interference.

Its basic architecture involves fiber-optic and coaxial cables, master and remote units, and other subsystem products, which receive and transmit signals from dedicated operator base stations to customer handhelds throughout the facility.

In some cases a temporary solution is brought in to meet the communication requirements of high profile events, adds Mugwanya. As football stadia receive surges in wireless data demand on a near weekly basis, a dedicated system is needed so that the impact on nearby subscribers isnt affected.

In the last few major sporting events, including the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Mugwanya says that Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) have been successfully used to provide the wireless coverage.

A similar highly adaptable system, which can be designed to suit almost any building, frequency and any number of operators, will also be used at the World Cup this year.

Mugwanya says that Andrew was previously involved in providing this solution for the tournaments in Germany and Beijing, so believes its reliability and performance has been well tested ahead of the competition in South Africa.

Vodacom chose the company to provide the DAS system in all five stadia that the operator is responsible for because this system allows several operators to support their customers wireless data demands throughout the tournament.

One important feature of the systems design was to ensure that it could be used long after the tournament is over and support the next generation of mobile technologies, such as LTE.

This needed to be flexible enough to support all current and future frequencies, including LTE and WiMAX, as well as multiple operators, adds Mugwanya.

The first stage of designing the DAS, where we used a combination of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and our own tools and expertise to map the expected wireless footprint, took around two to three weeks, he adds. The team then conducted a site survey to determine where the equipment could physically be installed, which took around one to two days. The third stage lasted for around three to four weeks and involved installing the DAS and conduct a Walk Test to optimise the system.

Mugwanya says the whole process took around two months with refinements made during dry runs, such as rugby matches and other events taking place
in each stadium.

The Confederations Cup, an international football tournament and precursor to the World Cup, took place in the host stadia giving us the perfect environment to test the system, he adds.

Interestingly, the DAS in the stadia have been designed to provide increased wireless capacity for the emergency services using traditional frequencies, with the system guaranteeing a dedicated channel for the emergency services.

This time around new elements are being implemented to take things to a new level though. One is solution based and one is commercial based, adds Wiles.

The first is that given the large penetration of cellular services in the South African market, many solutions that require a great deal of flexibility are being solved with 3G routers provided by MTN, he adds. These routers allow for the service to be based on a 3G signal that is then sent as a wireless signal to the clients.

Wiles says this allows for the solution to be easily installed in locations where cabled solutions may not be possible, pointing out that base internet services are being offered to the media for free.

For the stadiums Wiles explains that FIFA depends on various solutions depending on the particular requirements.

So, for solutions that require a high level of security and dedicated bandwidth he says that FIFA will use a wired solution leveraging a large domestic dedicated network.

TETRA will be used for the radio solutions where a high level of dedicated mobility is needed, he adds. 3G services will be used in some locations where a cabled solution may not make sense and a high level of flexibility is
Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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