With the excitement of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa still fresh in the memory, Brazil 2014 in prospect, and the recent bidding wars for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup venues making headline news, there is no other global sport to rival the passion and media frenzy generated by football.

The “beautiful game” is the focus of massive television, radio and newspaper coverage, serving millions of fans around the world with images, data, and a wealth of information on matches, teams and players.

But how are all these images and pieces of information transmitted to the gigantic video screens in football stadiums, to public viewing sites, and simultaneously to television and the Internet? How does a modern soccer stadium communicate?

State-of-the-art data networks

According to Swiss cabling specialist Reichle & De-Massari AG (R&M), the answer is via state-of-the-art data networks that ensure all communication systems in a stadium are always on the ball. These networks handle extraordinary peak loads while integrating multiple functions, and they must achieve this with absolute reliability.

R&M recently installed a complex network infrastructure at the new Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, one of the venues for the UEFA EURO 2012 European football championship to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. The company laid 60 kilometers of fibre optic cable, and more than 400 kilometers of shielded Cat. 6 copper cable with 6 000 copper and over 1 700 fiber-optic connections in the arena – one of the largest cable networks ever installed in Ukraine.

Temples of high-tech multimedia

Stadionwelt, a German sports stadium journal, has described soccer stadiums as “temples of high-tech multimedia”. During international contests gigantic quantities of data in the form of digital TV images flow from stadiums to broadcasters and TV companies.

Telekom Austria estimated that its fibre optic network transmitted a total of two petabytes of data during UEFA EURO 2008 – that is about five times the data quantity of all the books ever written. Yet the larger stadiums do far more than transmit high definition (HDTV) or 3-D television images. They are sophisticated information hubs producing large amounts of real-time data that make tough demands on communications infrastructures.

One of the latest developments in the amazing technological evolution surrounding the sport is a microchip in the ball enabling its position to be determined to the nearest millimeter. The interactive ball is followed by several antenna around the stadium that communicate over a computer network, giving referees live support during matches. The same network allows touchline photographers to feed digital photos from a camera or laptop directly to the Internet or their editorial offices.

In addition, stadium networks can now integrate access controls, spectator monitoring, alarms, electronic ticketing and cashier systems, lighting control, and heating and ventilation. Video monitoring also plays an important role in helping detect crowd unrest quickly, or in guiding spectators and traffic. Cameras can be integrated into stadium data networks with structured cabling using IP (Internet Protocol) linked, for example, to alarm, signaling, remote control, server and backup systems, or to security staff.

Further dimensions

“These are just a few of the applications that can be integrated using the standard Ethernet Protocol and IP. Convergence is opening up even further interesting dimensions to managing stadiums, facilities, sports and special events,” says Markus Schlageter, Head of Marketing at R&M. “Now, only a single platform is needed for wireless LAN (local area networks), phone and broadband Internet, video and audio transmission inside and outside the stadium.”

Huge stadiums such as the Allianz Arena in Munich, or the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid already have their own integrated data centres. Coaches, players and fans of Real Madrid, for instance, can access a data archive over radio and Internet containing several terabytes of videos, images, reports and statistics for analysis and planning.

The Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich, built for UEFA EURO 2008, uses a LAN to transmit live TV images from the playing field to all lounges, via the data network. Top quality TV footage is fed into 20 LAN sub-distributors using a cable TV solution from R&M.

Cabling standards

The dizzying evolution of multi-media technology has been closely mirrored by the development of two ISO/IEC cabling standards — part of a series of international information technology standards — that are designed to ensure uniformity, consistency and harmonization of millions of cable network components. These are: ISO/IEC 11801:2002, Information technology – Generic cabling for customer premises, and ISO/IEC 24702:2006, Information technology – Generic cabling – Industrial premises.

R&M reminds customers that the prerequisite for highly integrated network operations is cabling that conforms to ISO/IEC 11801, or EN 50173. Also, because arenas are subject to specific peak loads, the company recommends ISO/IEC 24702 for planning of industrial and outdoor applications. This International Standard, which complements the requirements of ISO/IEC 11801, helps users adapt their infrastructures to tougher environmental conditions involving dust, moisture and mechanical loads.

Standards – “shaping the industry”

ISO Focus+ asked Matthias Gerber, Head of Presales Engineering at R&M, to comment on how ISO/IEC 11801 and ISO/IEC 24702 have helped R&M’s business, and the importance of these standards to the cabling network industry, particularly as R&M has been involved in their development.

“R&M has always regarded ISO/IEC 11801 as its lead standard and is fully committed to complying with it. Since 1997, we have participated in ISO/IEC JTC 1/ SC 25/WG 3, Customer premises cabling, the ISO/IEC working group that developed the new standards, and we adopted them as soon as they became technically finalized, even before official publication,” said Matthias Gerber.

“The creation and worldwide standardization of a generic customer premises cabling system has generated enormous market potential. This has enabled the cabling industry to invest in product innovation, personal resources and production capabilities. The economy of scale allowed R&M to develop and build up fully automatic assembly lines for mass production of RJ45 connectors in Switzerland. In addition, the work to standardize and categorize cabling components and define common measurement methods has helped the end customer to compare offerings, and also promotes fair competition between vendors.”

According to Mr. Gerber, R&M considers the generic cabling standards as one of the most successful standardization activities ever. "ISO/IEC 11801 and ISO/IEC 24702 have definitely created a huge push for the cabling industry. By providing guidance to the end-user and cabling vendor, the two International Standards have clarified customer demands, and shaped and focused the entire industry.”

“The demanding performance targets defined by the standards required deeper understanding of the physics involved, and triggered incredible progress in possible data transmission speed. On the customer side, standardization has reduced the risks of stranded investments, and has helped to future-proof infrastructure investments. In this way these standards have actually helped to make money available for long-term investment in communication infrastructure.”

A requirement of doing business

Matthias Gerber reports that conformity to one of the cabling standards is a normal requirement in the cabling industry. While there are regional preferences in which standards to specify (ISO/IEC, CENELEC or TIA) depending on where in the world the project is located, he says that the ISO/IEC standards are widely recognized as the umbrella specification for the cabling industry.

“Unified and standardized generic cabling provides a huge customer base for active component development, and promotes the evolution of new, faster transmission equipment. For years now, development of the newest IEEE Ethernet transmission applications refer to the cabling standards for channel specification,” he concluded.

Matthias Gerber
Matthias Gerber
Head, Presales Engineering
Reichle & De-Massari AG
Switzerland