Women’s soccer gets a kick out of converged technology

Despite insurmountable odds, the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off without a hitch.

The threat of SARS, hurricane Isabel, a virus wave (a variation of MS Blaster) and the tight time-crunch — thanks to the last-minute venue change — put the heat on the technology team involved in getting

the event off the ground.

The Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) event was transferred from its original location in China to the U.S. on May 28th.

“”It gave us 94 days to not only organize a soccer event, but the technology needed to support FIFA’s requirements in the stadiums and with the media: the journalists and the broadcasters,”” says Doug Gardner, managing director, World Cup Technical Program for Avaya. “”This is a very short period of time to pull together an event of this size, from an organizational point-of-view . . . I would say we would run very few public projects of this size in such a short period of time.””

The networks at each site include Avaya switches and data products, wireless LANs, IP telephony systems, virtual private networks, security gateways and network management technologies, as well as a variety of existing equipment from other vendors, Gardner adds. Avaya has worked with a host of partners to help in the cabling arena, as well as with call-accounting software providers.

Indeed, Gardner, a soccer fan himself, says trying to organize the gig in such a short period of time was stressful. “”This latest virus . . . has been fairly prevalent in people’s laptops (connecting to the network) so we have to scan everybody’s PC (which we didn’t expect to do) and clean them if they are infected before we connect them to the network.””

Looking back over the last few months of work, Gardner says the experience has been challenging, yet fulfilling. “”It’s very rewarding to see that we’ve been able to overcome a lot of challenges that you couldn’t have traditionally done with traditional separate, voice and data infrastructure. But with a converged network, you have voice and data on the same network, and we’ve been able to do things that you couldn’t have done previously. (Without the technology) you couldn’t have connected remote accreditation centres via wireless and have telephony available in them as well.””

The matches, which started September 20th and run until October 12th, involve teams from 16 countries, 32 matches, hundreds of thousands of attendees, and millions of broadcast viewers.

For the first time ever in a FIFA tournament, all the Stadium Media Centres are outfitted by Avaya with wireless Internet access, says Michael Kelly, head of the FIFA World Cup IT Solution. This allows the media to swiftly retrieve crucial tournament information available on FIFAworldcup.com and FIFA.com from the convenience of their own PCs, Kelly says.

Kelly, who provides the organizing committee (U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF)) with counselling on the scope of IT requirements for the event, has worked with Avaya to ensure requirements are fulfilled.

Timing was the biggest challenge in getting the event up and running, he says. “”When the FIFA Emergency Committee announced in May the decision to relocate the 4th FIFA Women’s World Cup from China to the United States, we had approximately four months to prepare for the IT needs of this tournament, an undertaking which usually requires at least one year. Thankfully, Avaya sprung into action and immediately formed a new U.S.-based project team to tackle network, telephony, and IT issues facing the tournament.””

Two significant lessons from the 2002 men’s tournament, co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, helped make the event a success, he notes.

For starters, wireless networks can play a significant role in the provision of IT services for a FIFA tournament, he says. “”The two greatest benefits of wireless networks are: they reduce the need to augment stadium/venue IT infrastructure with additional cabling, a task that usually requires considerable effort and expense; and they increase the flexibility of locations where the various users of information (the media, tournament staff, volunteers) can work.””

He says Internet-based systems should be leveraged wherever possible; Internet-based architecture can reduce deployment and maintenance costs and allow easier integration of systems; and Internet-based systems can increase the flexibility in the way information is consumed by users.

Wireless networks are being used in the six stadiums and at the FIFA headquarters in Long Beach, Calif. There are a wide variety of stadiums, says Gardner, including the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.; PGE Park in Portland, Ore.; Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio; Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.; Lincoln Field in Philadelphia.; and RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

“”In Portland, in Columbus and in Washington, the infrastructure wasn’t anywhere near sufficient to meet the requirements of this event,”” Gardner says. “”So we’ve had to replace all the data network, provided IP telephony as well as 802.11b, and wireless access for the journalists and the press tribune in the stands.””

At the nerve centre in Long Beach, there were two hurdles to jump: how to overcome wiring limitations; and how to establish a secure network in a public venue.

To overcome the hurdle, Avaya designed a wireless, converged voice and data network that allowed them to place phones, PCs and other endpoints where needed without having to overhaul the wiring system.

On the security front, the group also used an Internet-based accreditation system for this tournament to provide the necessary credentials (identification badges that provide for stadium access control) to teams, referees, event staff and VIPs.

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