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One-on-one: Hugh Morris, chief executive, Glamorgan County Cricket Club
The Glamorgan County Cricket Club chief executive talks exclusively to Stadia about the new communications network being deployed at SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, to support next-generation media coverage of next month’s 2015 Investec Ashes series first Test
Glamorgan County Cricket Club (GCCC) has announced that a new communications network will be installed at its SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, to support next-generation media coverage of the first Test of the 2015 Investec Ashes series from July 8-12.
The new network, which was deployed in five days (including a full migration from GCCC’s existing set-up without service interruptions), will provision 120 journalists from around the world with robust wi-fi in the broadcast and media center, as well as providing field-side access for live correspondents and photographers.
For the Investec Ashes Test, the network will initially be sub-divided into five user groups with apportioned, ring-fenced bandwidth to safeguard access for critical journalists. GCCC will provision a quarter of the bandwidth for the use of the written media, with journalists from every major newspaper and media outlet in the UK and Australia committed to attend, as well as segments for photographers, non-rights holding broadcast journalists, GCCC staff, and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) staff. For future sporting events and conferences, the network can be reconfigured to support different user requirements within hours.
After the Investec Ashes Test, GCCC says it will continue to roll out access to the wi-fi network to guests and spectators, and hopes to set the precedent for other cricket venues to provide a more engaging fan experience.
How long has this upgrade been in the works?
Wi-fi provision at major matches has been a long-term challenge for cricket venues given the demand for robust connections. Demand has increased significantly in recent years and it is vital that we maintain a future-proof system that can be ramped up as habits change. It has proved impossible to define just how much bandwidth and how many access points are required because when we benchmark, so much changes ahead of the staging of the next major match a year down the line. It’s fair to say that it has been a challenge for cricket for 10 years, but we were mindful to have a new system in place for the first Investec Ashes Test in Cardiff this July given the prestige of the event.
What were some of the biggest challenges in the installation and deployment of the new system?
The biggest challenge is the scale of the footprint for coverage given that broadcast compounds, hospitality areas and photography positions are spread over a large area. In one sense, providing access to 120 journalists is the easy part as they are sat in the press box and rarely leave their seats, but a photographer moves around a boundary rope with a 1,300ft (400m) circumference. We overcame this by challenging Avaya to site access points to meet the needs of those accessing wi-fi during a major match, and their testing has proved to be very successful.
The network will be sub-divided into specific user groups with apportioned, ring-fenced bandwidth to safeguard access. How prepared is SWALEC Stadium for this approach?
Certain user groups are critical to us so the ring-fencing gives us the option to apportion more bandwidth to priority groups and to make changes to that mix if we see spare capacity or demand for more capacity. Isolating user groups is common practice but we will be geared up to re-apportion bandwidth in real time, which is vital in the early days of a new system.
In your opinion, what is the most innovative aspect of the new network?
The most innovative aspect is the ability to boost bandwidth for major matches. The system is run with a 1000Mbps service although we will subscribe to a 100Mbps-leased line outside of major matches. Having that spare capacity to utilize when we want to serve a higher volume of concurrent users without compromising connection speed was very appealing to us.
Will guests and spectators have access to this new communications network during the Ashes or is this exclusively for media use?
During the Ashes Test, the network won’t be open to spectators but we will be using the network statistics to calculate how much capacity we would require to make spectator wi-fi possible. North American sports tend to be a few years ahead of where we find ourselves in the UK and the model used by [MLS soccer team] San Jose Earthquakes at the Avaya Stadium, which is a clear case study, heartens us. We’re working to assess what is required to deliver that model here and planning on making progress towards that kind of offering.
How will SWALEC Stadium achieve its goal of becoming the most technically advanced cricket stadium in the world?
Cricket stadia bid for major matches and our national governing body assesses where they should be staged. One of the positive consequences of competitive bidding is that each venue is constantly striving to find a competitive edge by investing in different facilities that can help their case. Recently, there has been a move towards installing permanent floodlights and upgrading outfield drainage. Other venues have increased capacity or considered how they can be used for multiple sports. We believe that there is a real opportunity, and a tangible advantage, from positioning ourselves as a tech-savvy venue that has chosen to embrace the expectations of our customers.
June 19, 2015