By Raymond Tan
No matter who wins the 2006 World Cup in Germany this month, the event is already a technological milestone of sorts as it boasts the world's largest converged IP network ever built for a sporting event.
The converged network, run by official IT partner Avaya - which has worked with FIFA at three other events, including the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea - connects the 12 host stadiums, the international media centers in Munich, Berlin and Dortmund, and FIFA headquarters in Berlin, serving 15,000 users. Apps include player and journalist accreditation, reporting of results, material tracking, accommodation confirmations, transportation and ticketing.
The biggest challenge, says Doug Gardner, Avaya's FIFA World Cup program managing director, wasn't technology or scale, but time.
'The stadiums were being used for ongoing German Bundesliga soccer matches and we couldn't get access to them until the mid-April,' he says. 'We had three weeks to set up, as the network had to be up and running by May 5.'
To solve this headache, the entire network was built and tested at Avaya's technology laboratory in Frankfurt, and then transplanted to the stadiums. During the three-week window, Avaya engineers planned the entire system and rigorously tested its security, performance and functionality.
'We were ready by the time the equipment was installed at the stadiums,' says Gardner. 'We only did a small amount of re-testing to make sure nothing was damaged, or changed.'
The World Cup 2006 also marks the debut of an all-IP network at the event (the 2002 event featured all-IP in Japan but not Korea due to regulatory issues). The network features broader use of wireless connectivity, instant messaging, videoconferencing and soft phones. All 12 stadiums are connected with IP trunking and linked to an ATM WAN provided by Deutsche Telecom. The stadiums are connected to different telephone exchanges so that if one fails Avaya will switch to another.
On the wireless side, FIFA staff will be equipped with a mobility application that allows them to make and receive calls and use applications on either a desk phone or mobile handset using the same business number.
'We've extended the VPN client into the firmware of the VPN phone. Users only need Internet access or a cell service. It's now easier to extend the reach of the network to hotels, train stations and airports, locations which were difficult and expensive to do in 2002,' said Gardner. 'It costs much less now, is simpler and users don't require any tech support form Avaya.'
He adds that Avaya also solved a persistent problem at previous FIFA events: telephone directory updates for a large number of users.
In the 2002 World Cup, a contact directory was distributed in paper format, but this became less accurate through the days as contact numbers were frequently changed, sometimes by the hour.
For 2006, Avaya built a wireless IP communications gateway and set up a Web-based directory that is updated in real time. The updates are subsequently pushed onto the IP telephone.
'A user can walk to the nearest telephone and dial any contact he wants. The directory can also be accessed from the Web,' Gardner says. 'We've simplified a complex information problem that has plagued FIFA in the past.'