Radio planning for the 2014 Commonwealth Games

Designing and installing the various communications systems for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is no easy task, as James Atkinson finds out from John Dundas, radio communication services manager for Glasgow 2014

Radio planning for the 2014 Commonwealth Games

The 20th Commonwealth Games, to be held in Glasgow from 23 July to 3 August 2014, while not on the same scale as the London 2012 Olympics, is none the less a major sporting event.

The Games will feature 17 sports in 11 days of competition with 261 medal events on show. The sporting events will take place in 40 venues scattered around the city with 4,500 athletes, 4,000 accredited media, 1,400 official staff and an army of up to 15,000 local volunteers all participating. 

Glasgow 2014 is the official name for the Organising Committee (OC) tasked with delivering the Games in partnership with the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and Commonwealth Games Scotland. Naturally, one hugely important element in the successful delivery of the Games will be the provision of safe and reliable communication systems.

John Dundas, the radio communication services manager for Glasgow 2014, is the man tasked with ensuring this happens. And there is plenty of work to be done, as he points out: ‘The spectrum radio frequency side is very hard to do as everything is so close together. Frequency re-use is therefore very poor, so the RF engineering will have to be really tight.’

In terms of devices, the radio planning has to contend with two-way radios used by contractors, broadcast people and others, wireless cameras and microphones, mobile phones, Wi-Fi and more.

As of November 2013, Dundas’ team has undertaken 17 initial radio surveys of the key venues and begun spectrum planning with Ofcom, as well as discussions with the host TV broadcaster Sunset+Vine and Global Television (SVGTV), which will manage the design, installation and operation of the International Broadcast Centre. 

Key participants

The BBC and Australian broadcaster Network 10 are also key participants whose needs have to be met, while the team is also in discussion with the emergency services and other first and second tier public safety responders.

RF planning has been aided by learnings taken from the British National Road Race Championships, which was staged in Glasgow in July 2013 over a 15km route. A city wide VHF DMR two-way radio system was installed using three base stations and six radio channels to cover the route.

The radio installations threw up some interesting and unexpected challenges, as Dundas explains: ‘If you are installing radio equipment on the roof of a building, it helps to know beforehand if you can fit the equipment in the lifts!’

However, he says: ‘We did some things right with the cycle race. One was that we supplied everyone with two radio batteries; we carried spare equipment in the broom wagon that follows behind the cyclists; and we tested the radio coverage over and over again.’

Dundas’s team is also preparing the radio training procedures – 25,000 users will have to be trained to use the radios. Many of them will have never used a two-way radio before and their expectations of how digital two-way radio systems work and what they can do, compared with the mobile phones they are used to, will have to be managed.

Arrangements also have to be made to distribute radios every morning and retrieve them for charging at night. All the radios will have digital IDs and these will be recorded against the users they are issued to.

The main professional mobile radio system will be a TETRA solution running on Ministry of Defence spectrum loaned for the Games. The TETRA system will have 17 sites, 5,000 terminals, 7,000 batteries, 4,500 ear pieces and 300 headsets. A complementary VHF DMR system is also being deployed to provide a wide area network during the Games.

Riedel Communications, the company behind the communications solutions for Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking skydive from the edge of space in October 2012, is the official radio communications services provider for the Games, and is responsible for the radio network roll outs.

The start of the TETRA radio network roll out began in October 2013 with the first site now operational with users on it for the Commonwealth Games Village. The rest will be rolled out in early 2014 with the full system up and running by the end of May.

‘The challenge in installing equipment into the venues is getting access permission months ahead of the Games,’ says Dundas. ‘We are dealing with a lot of people who do not understand radio or spectrum and who ask us why we can’t put the antenna down in the basement of the building.’

Spectrum planning

The OC operates a dedicated licence service for the Games Family, rights holding media and broadcasters and others. However, Dundas emphasises that even if anyone in the Games Family already has a licence, they must still apply for permission to use it. 

UK Suppliers Light and UK General radio licences are banned in the venues, as the organisers have no control over them. If they caused interference it would be very difficult to trace them. Spectrum requests so far include:

- Wireless cameras – 148

- Wireless microphones – 413

- PMR radios – 998

- Telemetry – 41

- Ear microphones – 38

- Microwave mobile links – 48

- Fixed links – 20

‘We are still waiting for the Games Family and other stakeholders to let us know their requirements,’ says Dundas. 

All base station installations will be subject to test and tag procedures prior to operation. Installers will be pointed to the Federation of Communication Services’ new Code of Practice for radio site installations, which was launched in 2013, as a best practice guide for how to install the equipment correctly. 

A key aspect will be the labelling on the top and bottom of the antenna so anyone can see what has been installed and whose equipment it is. Authorisation stickers will show the frequency of operation, occupied bandwidth, along with spurious and harmonic emission levels.

Ofcom will be handling the test and tag procedure. It has installed 15 RF sensors (with three more to come) monitoring spectrum from 50KHz-3GHz. 

Dundas notes: ‘Ofcom has begun testing already and has found some illegal radio installations on the venues, although these are audio not PMR. Ofcom will also oversee spectrum clearance ahead of the Games in July 2014.’

Mobile phone network enhancement was mandatory for the London Olympics, but this will not be the case in Glasgow, Dundas explains. But coverage and capacity will be increased by the mobile network operators. ‘O2 and Vodafone are taking part in this and we hope Three and EE will follow,’ he says.

Solutions to boost mobile phone coverage and capacity include temporary cell sites with masts up to 25m high being installed. ‘Some internal venue solutions will be permanent,’ notes Dundas, ‘as we want visitors to be able to use their phones inside the venues.’

Dundas told Wireless at the beginning of February that the radio deployment process was on schedule and the sites installed so far were working well.

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