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European Championships Produced With Flexible Comms Matrix Over Distributed IP Network

Riedel share their insider insight into how comms and network infrastructure was achieved for the massive multi-stadium 2022 production.

This article was originally published as part of a Themed Content Collection: Orchestrating Resources For Large-Scale Events.

For production companies working on live sports production projects, the single most important technology that ensures a smooth outcome is crew communications. Without it, problems could occur and the director never knows about it until it’s too late. There are always time-critical decisions to be executed and everyone involved needs to be in sync. Therefore, immediate and clear communication that addresses the right recipients, when they need it most, can be indispensable.

Getting it right requires an appropriately designed communication infrastructure that ties the various venues to each other by sending the right audio signals back though a main production center for processing and system monitoring.

For the 2022 European Championships this summer, all crew intercom communications were routed on a distributed network—with a MediorNet fiber-optic routing platform from Riedel at the center—that allowed virtually every crew member to communicate with any other person across multiple locations, both separately and simultaneously as a group. This IP infrastructure connected a total of thirteen venues in and around Germany: eight were connected over an existing dark fiber network within the city limits and five more at Olympiapark (site of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games), some 14 miles away.

The entire production was run remotely. At the 2022 European Championships it was operated from the IBC in Munich, but could also have been operated from Riedel’s Remote Operations Center at its headquarters in Wuppertal, Germany. In fact, the entire installation was connected to the ROC for additional support and resources.

Software-Defined Orchestration

Events like the European Championships can benefit from SDN Orchestration to make the infrastructure more flexible and resilient, and easier to set up. To help the production go smoothly and to ensure that all signals (intercom, video, audio and data) are sent and received as desired), technicians can make use of real-time IP network orchestration and Software Defined Networks control systems like those developed by Belgium-based company SDNsquare, which Riedel acquired in September of this year.

This control layer can help teams customize infrastructures to accommodate various venues and seamlessly incorporate all of the video feeds, audio signals (including comms) and control data into a tailor-made and scalable networked production.

Distributed Fiber-Optic Network

More than 200 MediorNet frames were used, allowing the producers of the event—The Munich 2022 Local Organizing Committee—to send signals incoming from every venue to any output or even multiple outputs using a router control system. This gave the production team a great deal of flexibility in how and where comms signals were distributed and significantly reduced cabling and set-up time (requiring months of planning and about six weeks of installation).

“This fiber-based routing system eliminates the need for re-wiring if production configurations change at the last minute,” said Felix Demandt, Senior Project Manager at Riedel. “In total, we laid over 1,600 km [about 1,000 miles] of fiber for this event.”

The MediorNet installation was located inside the Technical Operation Center (TOC) in Munich. From there, the correct signals were supplied to the various international rights holders in the IBC as well as to the venues in the Olympiapark, and to other external venues.

“We received three 10 gigabit Internet in the Olympiapark and distributed it to the various areas such as Production, Media/Press, and Commentary,” said Demandt. The IT backbone for communications alone consisted of over 600 switches. “In addition, we also provided WiFi with over 300 access points for production.”

An IP network (based on MediorNet VirtU IP switches) was set up on site at the IBC and was used not only for access points at each venue but also helped integrate all of the comms activities as well. The entire comms infrastructure was based on the AES67 audio networking standard and was deployed using multicast routing, whereby signals were sent to a group of intercom users simultaneously.

At each venue the crew used a series of Riedel Artist intercom systems with Smartpanels as control interfaces and Riedel Bolero beltpacks, a wireless intercom capable of supporting up to 250 comms beltpacks and 100 antennas in a single deployment. An Artist-1024 talk back frame was also located at every venue, connected by AES67 to two frames in the IBC and an auxiliary frame in Wuppertal.

“We actually wanted to set up one intercom ring based on Riedel Artist in the Olympic Park, but we exceeded the dimensions of the system with 1024 subscribers, because we ended up with almost twice as many,” said Norbert Garske, Head of Broadcast Engineering Host/LOC. “We therefore installed a broadcast matrix for the complete TV production and an event matrix, which Riedel managed themselves. The two rings were connected by trunk lines.”

[Of note: Up to 128 ports can be accommodated in a single frame and up to 128 frames can be connected to a redundant dual fiber-optic ring resulting in a maximum matrix size of 1,024 x 1,024 intercom ports.]

The Cost-Effective Freedom To Roam

Giving the crew the freedom to roam, the Bolero beltpacks support Bluetooth, which allowed the crew to use either a compatible headset or a smartphone. Crew members could receive calls on their phone and talk and listen via their headset. Users could also inject phone calls directly into the intercom channels.

Due to the massive size of the crew at all locations, the equipment complement also included the use of TETRA-compliant radios. Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) is a European standard for two-way transceiver specifications.

“With TETRA, you can generate very cost-effective coverage for personnel that do not need complex high-end solutions,” said Demandt, adding that Riedel provided 96 support employees. “Thousands of Boleros for people like site crew would mean unnecessarily high costs, so expanding the IP comms network with TETRA is a very efficient way of covering very large user groups.”

Ensuring QoS Comms

During ten days in August, the European Championships required 2,500 radios, 400 Bolero systems and 450 SmartPanels as a Web-connected user interface. Once a match was completed, the Local Organizing Committee then distributed it to broadcasters all over the world.

Marc Schneider - Executive Director Global Events, Riedel Communications.

Marc Schneider - Executive Director Global Events, Riedel Communications.

Although the infrastructure was a bit complex, signal quality was foremost on the producers minds, as crew commands had to be heard correctly, with no static or dropped calls. To ensure QoS, the team deployed Quality of Service (QoS) DSCP Marking, which was used to determine which network traffic required higher bandwidth, has a higher priority, and was more likely to drop packets. They also made extensive use of Differentiated Services, a protocol for specifying and controlling network traffic by class so that certain types of traffic get precedence - for example, comms traffic, which requires a relatively uninterrupted flow of data, was given precedence over other kinds of traffic.

Comms Is Critical To (Sports Production) Success

Live event production is extremely challenging under the best of circumstances and you’ve only got one chance to get it right. In the world of live sports production, crew communications play a critical role across all production disciplines and are as important to the success of a major TV events like the European Championships as the performance of the football teams themselves.