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The Sydney Games

Creating a global network down under for the 2000 Olympics 6/25/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

From the opening ceremonies on Sept. 15 at Stadium Australia in Homebush Bay-a Sydney suburb-through the end of the 16 days of competition, the 2000 Olympic Games will be broadcast to an estimated 4 billion viewers. Televised coverage of every Olympic event will be carried from different venues in and around Sydney, Australia, on hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) cable to a nearby satellite center for transmission around the world.

In addition to the many nations that will bring their own TV crews to the Olympic Games, there also will be constant, neutral coverage provided by the Olympic Network of all the events and all the athletes. While the Olympic Network will offer no commentary, its coverage will include every aspect of the event from the crowds, to the starting guns, to the grunts and groans of the athletes as well as all the other background sounds of the Games. Any accredited network may pick up the feed and insert its own commentary, blend the footage with its own or otherwise integrate the material into its branded sports programming. Both point-to-point domestic and international video will be available, so that virtually any network, local or foreign, will have immediate access to live feeds from the Olympics. In addition, there will be 3.4 kHz, 7.5 kHz and 15 kHz audio networks and a domestic Olympic cable TV network.

For the first time ever, a network will provide uncompressed radio feeds. "We've lifted the bar," says Allan Southcombe, senior project manager for media and broadcasting for Telstra, the major telecommunications carrier in Australia. "We don't want compression to mess with the feed's quality," he adds. Unlike the Atlanta games, which offered compressed 45 Mb/s feeds, Sydney will provide uncompressed feeds for broadcasters.

The entire project, which includes the Olympic Network, is a massive voice, data and video system called the "Millennium Network." The network is the result of a $400 million project financed by Telstra that is designed to bring Australia's communications infrastructure up to Olympic-quality standards and to provide the basis for the country's future communications needs.

At the Sydney games, the communications infrastructure will have to serve 150 broadcasters and provide the densest mobile coverage anywhere because of Australian and Pacific Rim tourists' heavy usage of cell phones. There will be 280 video links from sporting venues to the International Broadcast Center (IBC)-part of the Olympic Network-and 3,200 audio links, of which 90% will be used by broadcasters and the rest by organizers and emergency crews. The Millennium Network, which was in planning and development for nine years, will serve 35 competition venues, three Olympic Villages, a technology command center, dozens of training sites and 50 noncompetition venues.

There will be 250 data links for timing and scorekeeping, stand-alone networks to serve the 12,000 mobile trunk radios used by organizers and officials, and 60 private cable TV channels to provide live action to the IBC and three Olympic Villages. About 100,000 technician-hours will be required to complete the cable installation.

Australia's Foxtel will be among the cable carriers linking into the 60 analog-cable TV system channels at IBC's headend. In addition to links to the venues in the Homebush area, there are secondary nodes at Blacktown and Kent, Australia. Blacktown will service remote soccer venues, baseball and softball to the west of Sydney; Kent will handle the east side and Darling Harbour area, the gateway to wrestling, boxing and martial-arts events.

The point-to-multipoint CATV will run to media and broadcaster locations, allowing them to monitor all events in all venues. The cable TV content will be sourced from the Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organization (SOBO) at the IBC and will be distributed via the Telstra network to all competition and non-competition venues in Sydney, including the Olympic villages.

Secondary nodes will be set up at two Sydney exchanges to serve local venues. Distribution of the CATV programs is via analog signal on fiber-optic cables. Several hubs are in place to provide distribution and amplification.

The system uses a PAL-B 7-MHz system for video. Forward fiber transmitters and an HFC network will carry the signals. There are two forward fiber transmitters working at 1,550 nanometers providing service to customers within a 40-km radius of the IBC. This will reach the farthest venue outside Sydney: Penrith Lakes.

Telstra will use a single cross-connect point in its main distribution frame for its Telecommunications Equipment Rooms (TERs). It will hard-wire the cable from TER to outlets with no intermediate cross-connection. Venues will have a star or hierarchical-star topology for their networks, which will allow for redundant routing in the hub configuration.

"Single cross-connect is more reliable and time-efficient than multiple points of jumpering [cross-connections]," says Telstra's Lesley Russell. "However, because it uses more cable, it requires distance limitations within venues to be closely monitored." The company is using PVC-free, smoke-stop halogen cable for its runs.

Because of the high quality of the installation, the effect of electromagnetic interference (EMI) at the Olympic Park will keep video-carrier noise to a minimum.

Only one carrier, NHK of Japan, plans to use HDTV to broadcast the games to its viewers. However, the network's high-quality infrastructure will enable NHK to handle that job.

Satellite gateway

The Millennium Network's gateway to the rest of the world is the Sydney Satellite Earth Station at Oxford Falls, just outside the city. Peter Longe, Olympic broadcast coordinator for satellite, says it relies primarily on PanAmSat-2 and -8; Intelsat; and Asia-Sat-2 for its links. The satellite center is linked to the main venues with OC-192 SDH fiber. "In theory, we've covered ourselves for bandwidth," Longe says.

The site is served by a trio of 18-meter Intelsat-A antennas, a 32-meter Moree antenna and a 7.3-meter Intelsat-F2 antenna. An area known as the teleport is served by two other F3 antennas.

The main focus of the satellite uplinks is television. NBC spent more than $700 million for broadcast rights to the Games (up from $456 million for the Atlanta Games). This year, the news outlets' challenge is to try to get scores and coverage out faster. NBC will promote its Web site (www.nbc olympics.com) to viewers for in-depth coverage of events. And the TV broadcasts will drive the viewers to the Web site.

Although Telstra is Australia's leading ISP, it will not be streaming video of the various competitions mainly because of existing contracts with NBC and other providers that have the rights to televise the Games.

Radio network

The Olympic Radio network is a digital trunk system, including base-station person-to-person communications. Telstra is using the APCO 25 system by Motorola as the ASTRO Smart Zone for the digital trunk radio system. It is already in use in the New South Wales Government Radio Network.

The system has 12 base stations with 224 transmitters throughout the city of Sydney. Three of the base stations are near the Sydney Olympic Park, and two of these will provide in-building coverage for Stadium Australia and the Sydney International Aquatic Centre. Each venue is covered by a signal from more than one base-station site.

Every site has one control channel to manage traffic across the network, plus talk channels. These range from seven to 27 channels, depending on the size of the site. The digital system will support as many as 10,000 radio handsets for Olympic user groups. The Olympic Security Command Center will use another 3,000 handsets.

Cellular network

The grounds of the Olympic stadium include several design innovations. A photographer's pit rims three-quarters of the stadium track, allowing still and TV crews an up-close view of track-and-field events without actually being in the way. Most of those reporters will carry cellular phones, as well as using their internal systems for communications.

Built into the overhead girders of the stadium is an array of cellular-phone antennas, each designed to cover a small area of the stands. Roughly 44% of all Aussies own a cell phone, and the number of calls expected to be made at halftime and at the end of games is mind-boggling. As a result, Telstra installed cellular antennas all over the place. They have antennas on top of light poles, in the beams above the stands, even on top of pay-phone booths.

Fans will see the action rebroadcast on two giant TV screens. The Panasonic monitors at either end of the field weigh 36 tons each and are the size of 440 consumer-sized TVs. They cost $6 million each. The scoreboards are separate.

Monitoring the Net

Losing a TV feed or dropping a call from an athlete back home would be the equivalent of a botched baton pass during a relay race. So Telstra installed Hewlett-Packard's AccessFiber system to plot its network and check for faults. Dubbed the "Remote Fiber Monitoring System," it will constantly monitor the fiber-optic network, which will fill the short-term demand of electronically bringing the world to Australia for the Olympic Games in September. Afterwards, that network will provide the city of Sydney with a state-of-the art communications infrastructure.

David Conolly, manager of technology and networks for the Olympic Network in Sydney, will focus on keeping things running smoothly. Under his supervision are the asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) backbone network, the broadcast links, the wireless infrastructure, and all of the various security and communications links that Telstra is providing to transmit the Olympic Games.

Each video link for every broadcaster has two fibers, each going in different directions. "If something goes wrong, you will lose one fiber and one feed. With the redundancy built in, nothing is lost," Conolly points out. This is different from Atlanta, where a more traditional system was used. "There was a lot that could have gone wrong," he says. "Fortunately, it didn't. The broadcasters' needs are paramount." Telstra thought it would be cheaper to provide physical redundancy than to go the traditional route. But in the end, the cost was about the same.

Scope and scale

The total length of fiber-optic cable that will be used to transmit the Olympic Games to the world is sufficient to circle the earth 37 times.

And it's a far cry from the last time Australia hosted the Olympic Games, which was in 1956 in Melbourne. Back then, the telephone company-OTC Australia, the predecessor to Telstra-handled a total of 30,000 Olympics-related calls. This year, 30,000 new phone lines have been installed to serve the Olympics. In 1956, there was a whopping total of seven broadcast cameras, and the broadcast rights to the entire event sold for 40 British pounds, less than $100.

Times and telecommunications may have changed, but the Olympics is still arguably the biggest production effort in sports.

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