fibre

“You guys do Wi-Fi at events right?” typically is the way most people remember us, the irony that the invisible part of our service is in reality the most visible. Unless you know what you are looking for at a large event site you are unlikely to notice the extensive array of technology quietly beating away like a heart.

From walking up to the entrance and having your ticket scanned, watching screens and digital signage, using a smartphone app or buying something on your credit card before you leave, today’s event experience is woven with technology touchpoints. Watching a live stream remotely or scrolling through social media content also rely on an infrastructure which supports attendees, the production team, artists, stewards, security, traders & exhibitors, broadcasters, sponsors and just about everyone else involved.

During a big event the humble cables and components which enable all of this may deal with over 25 billion individual electronic packets of data – all of which have to be delivered to the correct location in milliseconds.

In the first of three blogs looking behind the scenes we take a look at how the core network infrastructure is put together.

Let’s Get Physical

When an event organiser starts the build for an event, often several weeks before live, one of the first things they need is connectivity to the internet. Our team arrives at the same time as the cabins and power to deliver what we call First Day Services – a mix of internet connectivity, Wi-Fi and VoIP telephony for the production team.

Connectivity may be provided by traditional copper services such as ADSL or via satellite but more typically is now via optical fibre or a wireless point to point link as the demands on internet access capacity are ever increasing. Even 100Mbps optic fibre connections are rapidly being surpassed with a need for 1Gbps fibre circuits.

Distribution Board

PSTN, ISDN, ADSL and fibre all are commonplace on a big site

Wireless point-to-point links relay connectivity from a nearby datacentre or other point of presence, however, this introduces additional complexity with the need for tall, stable masts at each end of the link to create the ‘line of sight’ required for a point to point link. To avoid interference and improve speeds the latest generations of links now utilise frequencies as high as 24GHz and 60GHz to provide speeds over 1Gbps. Even with the reliability of fibre and modern wireless links it is still key to have a redundant link too so a second connection is used in parallel to provide a backup.

From there on the network infrastructure is built out alongside the rest of the event infrastructure working closely with the event build schedule. Planning is critical with many sites requiring a network infrastructure as complex as a large company head office, which must be delivered in a matter of days over a large area.

The backbone on many sites is an extensive optical fibre network covering several kilometres and running between the key locations to provide the gigabit and above speeds expected. On some sites a proportion of the fibre is installed permanently – buried into the ground and presented in special cabinets – but in most cases it is loose laid, soft dug, flown, ducted, and ramped around the site. Pulling armoured or CST (corrugated steel tube) fibre over hundreds of metres at a time through bushes, trees, ditches and over structures is no easy task!

Optical fibre cable can run over much longer lengths than copper cable whilst maintaining high speeds, however, it is harder to work with requiring, for example, an exotically named ‘fusion splicer’ to join fibre cores together. On one current event which uses a mix of 8, 16 and 24 core fibre there are over 1,200 terminations and splices on the 5.5km of fibre. With the network now a critical element redundancy is important so the fibre is deployed in ‘rings’ so that all locations are serviced from two independent pieces of fibre – a tactic known as ‘diverse routing’ – so that if one piece of fibre becomes damaged the network continues to operate at full speed.

Each secure fibre break-out point, known as a Point of Presence (POP), is furnished with routing and switching hardware within a special weatherproof and temperature controlled cabinet to connect up the copper cabling which is used to provide the services at the end point such as VoIP phones, Wi-Fi Access points, PDQs and CCTV cameras.

Each cabinet is fed power from the nearest generator on a 16-amp feed and contains a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to clean up any power spikes and ensure that if the power fails not only does everything keep running on battery but also an alert is generated so that the power can be restored before the battery runs out.

Although wireless technology is used on sites there is still a lot of traditional copper cabling using CAT5 as this means power can be delivered along the same cable to the end device. Another aspect is speed, with most wireless devices limited to around 450Mbps and shared between multiple users the actual speed is too low for demanding services, whereas CAT5 will happily run at 1Gbps to each user.

For critical reliability wireless also has risks from interference so where possible it is kept to non-critical services but there are always times when it is the only option so dedicated ‘Point-to-Point’ links are used – these are similar to normal Wi-Fi but use special antennas and protocols to improve performance and reliability.

Cheery picker

A head for heights is important for some installs!

Another significant technology on site is VDSL (Very High Bit-Rate DSL), similar in nature to ADSL used at home but run in a closed environment and at much higher speeds. It is the same technology as is used for the BT Infinity service enabling high speed connections over a copper cable up to around 800m in length (as opposed to 100m for Ethernet).

All of these approaches are used to build out the network to each location which requires a network service be it a payment terminal (PDQ) on a stand to a CCTV camera perched high up on a stage. Although there is a detailed site plan, event sites are always subject to changes so our teams have to think on their feet as the site evolves during the build period. Running cables to the top of structures and marquees can be particularly difficult requiring the use of cherry pickers to get the required height.

After the event all of the fibre is coiled back up and sent back to our warehouse for re-use and storage. The copper cable is also gathered up but is not suitable for re-use so instead it is all recycled.

The deployment of the core network is a heavy lift in terms of physical effort but the next step is just as demanding – the logical network is how everything is configured to work together using many ‘virtual networks’ and routing protocols. In part 2 we will take a look at the logical network and the magic behind it.

 

Photo Credit: Fibre Optic via photopin (license)

October 21st 2015 is well known as Back to the Future Day – the date Marty and the Doc travel forward to from 1985 in the blockbuster Back to the Future II – but it’s also the first day of the Showman’s Show 2015. Coincidence? We don’t think so.

For our 8th year Etherlive will be manning stand 65 within the main exhibition hall to meet old friends and make new ones. We will be showing off the latest and greatest technology for those running events around the world.

We may not have flying cars and hover boards but we do have ubiquitous connectivity, contactless payment, HD CCTV, high quality Wi-Fi and plenty of other futuristic services on display including:

High Speed Satellite – Delivering high speed internet at short notice, satellite systems have continued to evolve and are now available for a range of budgets. Quick to setup and effective Etherlive have deployed over 200 systems in 2015 alone ranging from media centres to fashion launches and production teams.

Robust Wi-Fi – The core of any deployment, Wi-Fi delivers the internet to those who need it reliably over large areas. Etherlive has continued to invest in the latest generation hardware capable of meeting the most demanding outdoor environments and high density requirements.

Payment Systems – A continued driving force for connectivity at events is the ability to process transactions quickly and effectively. Working with partners Etherlive has validated the best systems to rely upon.

People Counting – Quick and reliable systems which integrate with Etherlive CCTV or other CCTV systems to provide accurate counting for gates, pinch points or stages. Key data points form part of the Event View suite of tools which empower organisers with critical information about their events.

We’ll be on stand 65 (with chocolate and coffee) – see you there!

http://www.showmans-directory.co.uk/about-the-show

Etherlive back to the future

We don’t need wires where we’re going!

Last week I was lucky enough to visit one of our customer deployments providing site wide high speed Wi-Fi for a leading retailer who was launching (hold your breath) their Christmas range to the worldwide media

Mistletoe, fake snow and Santa hats seem funny against a sunny London day but it did remind me that Christmas comes all to quickly and those preparing events are already well into planning

As that planning takes place our 4 key questions for Christmas;

How will payment be taken?

Last year we saw a large uptick in events looking to guarantee payment transactions. GPRS terminals can struggle during busy events or when indoors so many are using products like iZettle [https://www.izettle.com/gb] or chip and pin terminals powered by a local network.

How will security be maintained?

Nothing replaced highly trained, focused, security teams but CCTV systems can provide crucial evidence if required. Systems can now be deployed wirelessly monitoring those that enter and exit as well as general activity. Systems can be set to automatically ‘tour’ so don’t need to be actively monitored. High definition level images mean the important details can be captured and remote access means those who need images can quickly download the data.

How can footfall be increased?

The demand for ‘public’ wifi continues to increase as those at events look to settle down with a drink (coco?) and enjoy the atmosphere. Using Wi-Fi hotspots in areas can drive traffic or get those on site to stay a little longer and spend that little extra

How do you know many people visited?

Clicking people in remains the order of the day for most events but intelligent counting systems have increased in simplicity and can provide highly granular reporting against the various times or day and most popular access areas. Useful for those looking to build a profile of the event for sponsors or activations and those managing staff allocation.

So far the summer season is priority number one but before we know it Christmas is upon us.

The ‘internet of things’ continues to be one of the buzz words within the technology world. What does it mean? Essentially it is the next step in the level of communication capability within our daily lives. This is the fridge talking to the supermarket, your car warning the garage you have a part that might need replacing and the dishwasher politely reminding you it will do a self-cleaning cycle overnight when energy rates are cheaper. Depending on your perspective that might all feel a little big brother but for most people it makes things simpler and of course provides new levels of opportunity for business, the same as 5 years ago having your phone know where you are seemed dangerous but now most people use it to find the nearest restaurant which is well reviewed or a car park with spaces.

Great. So what does this mean to events?

Events are unique in the way they deal with a huge amount of information on a site within a very short time. The information recorded can have two fundamental impacts; firstly that during the live there may be an opportunity to make some changes very quickly and address an issue but perhaps even more importantly the information can drive decisions for the next event, be that a couple of weeks, months or a year away.

Etherlive the event of things

Etherlive the event of things

From discussions with customers the key areas that timely information could be supplied with group into key areas;

Environmental Monitoring – Temperatures, sound levels and potential fire detection. Helping record trends and proactively monitoring increases which are not expected. Sound monitoring, for example, would not replace the current monitoring points required by licence but provide greater granularity over site.

Audience – Monitoring of social media systems to identify trend topics on site or specific issues. A running social media feed may identify issues which are being reported (perhaps even encouraging a specific hash tag) and can be used for archiving purposes

Ticketing – Gate counts and volume per minute. Working with ticketing providers to collect and report their data to show gates which may need additional resource.

Power management – Fuel level monitoring, power load etc allowing the power teams to evaluate load over areas for site and where capacity is required.

Whatever happens with the ‘Internet of things’ certainly events can benefit from increased levels of monitoring and post event reporting.

Announcements from Apple always have a certain sparkle; their PR is the slickest, their presentation is faultless (although in this case it showed even the best can have technology problems as the video stream faltered frequently) and, most importantly, they have a knack of defining a market.

Apple were not the first with a portable mp3 player, yet the others are long forgotten as the iPod defined the genre. Before the iPad was launched in 2010 many, many tablets had come and gone. Arguably technology had finally caught up and the introduction of the iPad has allowed a generation to enjoy lightweight computing without overheating laptops on laps, creaking screens and tapping keyboards.

The announcement today of the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 plus and the Apple Watch are exciting in themselves. The phone models are the extension of the brand we all know well; though this time with an increase in screen size (4.7” and 5.5” respectively vs the typical iPhone 4”). The Apple Watch is an extension of the handset with a screen that allows access to apps, information, maps and much more.

However, there is one absolutely critical technology included in all three products which the market has demanded for some time; Near Field Communications (NFC).

Can a push from Apple get cashless moving and vanish those queues?

Can a push from Apple get cashless moving and vanish those queues?

The inclusion of NFC facilitates payment for goods directly from the device. A swipe of the phone, or now watch, against an NFC reader allows the transaction to complete. Again other manufacturers have offered this for some time, but it takes an influencer like Apple to really drive customer awareness.

One thing Apple are experts at is understanding that it takes more than just technology to go from niche interest to mainstream – it’s about the complete package. The iPod owes much of its success to iTunes which in turn was successful because Apple had lined up a huge catalogue from all the record labels.

In this case it’s not just about the inclusion of NFC, it’s as much about the launch of Apple Pay where they have already lined up Mastercard and Visa as launch partners in the US, along with retailers such as Subway and McDonalds. In a smart move Apple has also said that with Apple Pay they have no access or visibility to the transaction data, quelling fears over data protection which could have been a hindrance.

How powerful will it be to use something on your wrist to process payment? Very.

What does this mean for events? So far open-loop and closed-loop contact less payment systems at events have seen slow adoption, partly due to implementation cost and lack of agreed standards, and partly due to customer resistance due to privacy concerns.

Although it will still take time for suitable penetration of the new devices this long awaited inclusion will accelerate and change the landscape for mobile/contactless payment and associated services.

Those without a strategy for contactless payment systems need to start working out how best to take advantage of a system which allows immediate transactions without the need to top up cash (and then bank it the other side).

It also puts into doubt the longer term viability of proprietary closed loop systems as users are more likely to trust well known established names which have a broader acceptance.

For event organisers it also means more consideration for the ancillary services like charging and, of course, connectivity which all of this relies on.

Whatever happens, if anything was going to highlight NFC technology to the wider world (whether what they buy has an Apple logo on it or not) this is it.