Bell Canada trains for an Olympics on IP

While athletes from around the world are competing for gold medals in Torino, Italy, Bell Canada executives are already training for the next Olympics, which they hope to run completely over Internet protocol.

The telecommunications giant hosted a Webcast Thursday from Torino where leaders of its Vancouver 2010 team discussed their technical preparation for an event that is still four years away. Bell has been on the ground meeting and learning from Telecom Italia since the 2006 Winter Games got under way earlier this week. Bell vice-president of Olympic services Justin Webb said he hopes the experience will lead to a “knowledge transfer” to help the company create a converged infrastructure for the 2010 Games.

“We are gaining access to the telecommunications equipment room, all the cabling, the power supplies, backup generators. We’ve talked to all the people operating this network. We have had, so far, very good access,” he said.

Most of the Torino Olympics are based on traditional telephone networks, Webb said. Bell’s plans for Vancouver in 2010, on the other hand, include a network with 15,000 IP-based ports connecting more than 10,000 IP phones, and 5,000 two-way radios. Broadcasters will be delivering content over a SONET network, and Bell will also be creating a portal for the games. Converged IP is just easier to manage, Webb said, and the network for Vancouver 2010 will allow a greater use of mobile computing technology. 

Olympic Telecom Solutions general manager Norm Silins likened Bell’s activities in Torino to athletes who are learning the game and what’s required to play it.

“We’ve looked at the venues to see how it comes together: the timing and scoring, the scheduling of volunteers, athletes. All of that is running in 2010 on Bell technology,” he said. “As we get into high-performance mode, we are going to test, test, test.”

Bell’s 2010 network will be a mixture of wired and wireless. The company is in the process of building 47 new bay stations on the Sea to Sky Highway, and augmenting capacity for 100 more bay stations. It is also building seven fibre optic rings in the lower mainland, while 50 per cent of the required fibre optics rings in Vancouver have already been built, Webb said. 

“The benefit for the communities is huge,” he said. “They will have services unheard-of before.”

The Vancouver Organizing Committee officially picked Bell Canada as its premier national partner for the 2010 Games, signing a contract worth approximately 38 million Euros. Telus, which is the more local telecom provider, had hoped to win that business, committing some $3 million in cash and in-kind services to the bid, including developing the Vancouver 2010 Web site and providing network design for the 2010 bid book. A spokesman confirmed, however, that it will not be providing telecommunication services to the actual Games.

Despite the potential benefits of an IP network, Silins said there was little to criticize about the job Telecom Italia is doing in Torino.

“The games here are running flawlessly. The broadcasters are getting their message to the world. Timing/results and scoring are going well, operations and networking are being done in a timely fashion,” he said. “Everything we’ve seen, experienced, is performing as it should be.”

Bell will be working on the 2010 Olympics with systems integrator Atos Origin, which has worked on previous Olympic events including the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

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