Live From The Open: 3Ci Events Keeps Everyone Connected via WiFi, IPTV, Fiber
Year after year, the R&A continues to enhance The Open’s on-course digital-communications infrastructure, and it is up to C3i Events, based in Swansea, UK, to ensure that those improvements meet the needs of broadcasters, fans, and everyone 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 fiber 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 C3i Events owner Jason Hall. “And then, we also run the complete IPTV Exterity network into all hospitality areas.”
Exterity’s IPTV system has been used since 2010, which 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, enabling golf fans, wherever they are in the hospitality village, to watch close-ups of the action. Onsite broadcasters also use the system to monitor their own channels.
“The Open requires months of planning and two months onsite. 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 fiber into the ground in 2010 prior to the BBC’s even providing HD. So we had a limited amount of fiber,” says Hall. “In April of last year and then throughout the winter, [we increased] the amount of fiber for 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 fiber infrastructure are easy to see.
“It’s much less labor-intensive for the broadcasters,” Hall points out, adding, “And, from an aesthetic standpoint, there is significantly less black cabling on the course, as it is now all underground.”
The biggest change since 2010 has nothing to do with technology but with rules: 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 not only lets fans on the course follow scores and the 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,” Hall explains. “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: 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 and distributes them through the IPTV system and via the app. It also creates its own magazine show and has on-course ENG crews chatting with fans, players, and others.
“We used to just provide the video screens. 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. “In those days, we couldn’t just put a still image on the plasma screens as it would burn in. 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 onsite for this event. Up next is The Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes 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.
Notes Hall, “This is all about engaging the fans.”