Live from The Open: 3Ci Events provides fibre, IPTV, Wifi backbone
Year over year the R&A continues to enhance The Open’s on-course digital communications infrastructure and is up to C3i Events, based in Swansea, UK, to make sure those improvements meet the needs of broadcasters, fans, and all of those involved in the corporate and hospitality events that are a big part of The Open experience.
“As the digital communications consultant for the R&A and The Open we oversee the fibre and network infrastructure, including the entire physical network, IT, audio/video, WiFi (and therefore the app), and the LED screens that are in the hospitality villages,” says Jason Hall, C3i Events, owner. “And then we also run the complete IPTV Exterity network into all of hospitality areas.”
Exterity’s IPTV system has been used since 2010 that was also the last time The Open was held in St. Andrews. The new installation has extended the reach of the Exterity system to all the hospitality and media suites at St Andrews, so that golf fans can watch close-ups of the action regardless of their location within the hospitality village. On-site broadcasters also use the system to monitor their own channels.
“The Open requires months of planning and two months on-site. Streaming a competition of this scale would have been impossible without Exterity,” says Hall. “The system provides all off air and on-course channels in a flexible and scalable way, as well as all the control and management features we need, and that can all be managed centrally by a single administrator.”
The expanded Exterity system is only one of many things that have changed for C3i since 2010.
“We put fibre into the ground in 2010 prior to the BBC even providing HD so we had a limited amount of fibre,” says Hall. “This time we can around in April of last year and then throughout the winter to increase the amount of fibre needed for the number of cameras ESPN and BBC have. And then we also have a significant amount of wireless access points on the course.”
The advantages of the expanded fibre infrastructure are easy to see.
“It’s much less labor intensive for the broadcasters and from an aesthetic standpoint there is significantly less black cabling on the course as it is now all underground,” adds Hall.
The biggest change since 2010 actually has nothing to do with technology but rules as fans can now bring their smartphones onto the course. Those devices opened up new ways to deliver content to fans. For example, The Open app lets fans on the course not only follow scores and a leaderboard but also provides radio and TV coverage.
“We then got to a point where it was a challenge to provide coverage for 3G and then 4G so the question was how to put in Wifi coverage,” explains Hall. “And the challenge that comes with that is while it is fairly straightforward to go into a stadium and put in a public Wifi infrastructure the infrastructure here is completely different as it is a temporary structure and is a tent that moves. So we worked very closely with all of the primary contractors to make sure we have a wireless MESH network that is course wide.”
The result this year is usage that has averaged between 15,000 and 20,000 users and 8,000 people streaming HD video at the same time.
“We have not stretched the Wifi infrastructure by any means as we can handle up to 40,000 users on the whole course,” says Hall. “We’re comfortable that our Wifi is sufficient for an Open Championship.”
C3i Events pulls in feeds from the BBC, ESPN, and TV Asahi and encodes them and distributes them through the IPTV system and via the app. It also creates its own magazine show, OpenTV, thanks to on-course ENG crews chatting with fans, players, and others.
“We used to just provide the video screens and there would be 400 or 600 screens around the course and the screens would go black when there wasn’t a broadcast signal,” says Hall. “And in those days we couldn’t just put a still image on the plasma screens as it would burn in so we needed moving images and that led to creating a channel about the golf that covers everything else going on.”
In addition the system is tied in with health and safety and R&A Control so that if information needs to be disseminated quickly the IPTV system and iBeacons can be used.
3Ci has 65 people on site for this event and up next will be The Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on Sept. 12-13 and, says Hall, “the Rugby World Cup is also looming.”
Fans at both those events, like those at The Open, are in for a treat.
“This is all about engaging the fans,” adds Hall.