By CURT HARLER
Swimmers Ian Thorpe and Susie O'Neill are Sydney, Australia's hometown favorites to get gold and glory in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Televised coverage of every stroke of their races will be carried from the pool on fiber-optic cable to a nearby satellite center for broadcast to the world.
Before their races, Thorpe and O'Neill will have to pass through a security system supported by fiber. And as they touch the wall, a fiber-based network will compute their times and display them for the world to see.
The heart of the transmission network in place for the 2000 Olympics is a combined SDH ring and direct optical-fiber network. David Conolly, manager of technology and networks for the Olympic Network in Sydney, says he sees no reason for the technology to fail. Part of the reason for his confidence is that each video link for every broadcaster has two fibers, each going different ways.
"If something goes wrong, you will lose one fiber and one feed. With the redundancy built in, nothing is lost," he says. This is different from 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where organizers used a more traditional single-ring system. "There was a lot that could have gone wrong at Atlanta," says Conolly. "Fortunately, it didn't."
Telstra, the Australian carrier responsible for the telecommunications network, thought it would be cheaper to provide physical redundancy than to go the traditional route, but in the end, the cost was about the same. Cost really wasn't the major consideration, however. "The broadcasters' needs are paramount," Conolly says.
Beyond the broadcasters, SDH will see extensive use in the basic telecommunications network. SONET-SDH's North American equivalent-was used for the first time at an Olympics in '96. One loop had been installed on a trial basis in Barcelona. In Sydney, almost everything is fiber, based on a network promoted as Australia's Millennium Network.
The SDH network is actually an overlay on the normal Telstra network, according to Allan Southcombe, senior project manager for Telstra, which is the dominant carrier in Australia. "We will provide Nx565-Mbit/sec packages to the venues," Southcombe says. So sophisticated is the system that should an athlete be injured, the fiber-based network can deliver the competitor's medical profile to the track for first-aid work and then follow the athlete to the hospital complete with field notes.
A major reason for the fiber-intensive network is to provide broadcasters uncompressed links wherever possible. Video from the International Broadcast Center (IBC) will be at 270 Mbits/sec over fiber via Artel codecs. Only the remote soccer venues will move signals at 45 Mbits/sec. By contrast, all feeds at the Atlanta Olympiad were 45 Mbits/sec.
"The telephony and data requirements are not too big," Southcombe says. "They stretch you a bit. But it is the video that really tests us and gives us the opportunity to show we are capable of handling huge bandwidth."
There are redundant routes throughout Australia and into Perth, which is the submarine fiber gateway to Singapore and Japan. In Sydney, there are four major exchanges, equipped with Siemens SDH equipment, which will move traffic at the STM-16 level at 2.5 Gbits/sec and drops to STM-4 at the venues, also on Siemens equipment.
"This is a robust network built to provide fail-safe backup in emergencies," says Gerry Moriarty, group managing director for Telstra's Infrastructure Services Group. "It uses SDH self-healing ring topology, so there is always more than one way to get a signal from A to B. If there is a problem with one transmission route, the second will be there-instantly."
The Millennium Network will provide all the network services needed for the operations and broadcast of the Games, including video, audio, data, phone, fax, and mobile-communications services. While its short-term use is bringing the world electronically to Australia for the Olympic Games in September, it will continue to provide the city of Sydney with a state-of-the-art communications infrastructure for the 21st century.
"We are going to broadband Australia; we'll be serving 90% of Australia in the next two years and expect to have one million broadband customers in the next five years," Moriarty says. Alcatel-based asymmetric DSL service will be provided to bring high-speed connectivity to those areas not reached by fiber. The core network will comprise Nortel equipment.
Copper cable will see limited use in the Olympic network. One typical use of copper is in the press center, where the building is outfitted with Category 3 shielded twisted-pair for data over 128-kbit/sec lines. That will link into the fiber-optic backbone lines required by IBM for its data network. IBM will get its fiber from Telstra, which will provide STM-1, (155-Mbit/sec) feeds for data.
From Sydney, the Millennium Network spreads across Australia, including runs to Perth, through Alice Springs, and across the Outback to the far Northwest coast. The network's gateway from the fiber runs to the rest of the world is the Sydney Satellite Earth Station at Oxford Falls outside the city.
The satellite center is linked to all of the main Olympic venues with OC-192 SDH fiber. "In theory, we've covered ourselves for bandwidth," says Peter Longe, Olympic broadcast coordinator for satellite.
The total length of fiber-optic cable that will be used to transmit the Games to the world-at more than 1.5 million km in length-is sufficient to circle the earth a stunning 37 times.
A dedicated IBM network will serve the venues. In addition, there will be general data-network services available at Nx2-Mbit/sec, Nx64-kbit/sec, and sub-64-kbit/sec rates.
IBM will build and operate LANs at each Olympic venue as part of its INFO2000 system, as the official data network is known. It will be used to manage all of the Games' functions, including accreditation and results. All INFO2000 LANs will be linked to a computer equipment room (CER) at each venue. The CER will tie to a telecommunications equipment room (TER). These TERs will have parallel responsibility for separate overlay video and voice networks.
Sydney Olympic Park venues will be redundantly linked to IBM's two data-network hub centers at the main stadium area in Homebush via the dedicated fiber network that Telstra will provide to IBM. These redundant links will terminate at the hub centers' TERs and break out into IBM computer systems in the hubs. Both the dedicated fiber network and SDH network will deliver 155-Mbit/ sec connectivity.
Hub-center TERs will also have out-going redundant SDH public-network access from Sydney Olympic Park through the SDH cloud back to IBM-operated primary and backup data centers.
To keep its fiber network running, Telstra teamed with Agilent Technologies to develop the so-called Remote Fiber Monitoring System. More than a fault locator, the system will constantly monitor the fiber-optic network and detect degradation as well as cuts or loss of power. Meanwhile, Telstra also installed Agilent's AccessFiber system to plot its network and check for faults.
The system resides on a minicomputer server with links back to the telco's corporate network. Because the system is so accurate, assuring the precision of each junction box, splicing location, and cable run became a major consideration. Telstra took a map of its network, superimposed it on a street map of the city and surrounding area, and went to work with global-positioning-system equipment to assure accuracy.
A spare fiber in each cable bundle serves the same purpose as an optical time-domain reflectometer (OTDR) for testing the reliability of fusion splices and locating faults in a fiber cable. "It does a measurement against the original design specifications for the network and checks current results against its last reading," Conolly explains. Should the OTDR note any change from those parameters, it sends out a warning to the technicians monitoring the system.
The system is good at picking up stretch alarms, a precursor to major faults. If a particular joint goes from 0.1-dB to 1-dB loss, it is usually a good indicator of current or potential problems. "In fact, it picked up a fault the first time we turned up the network last October," Conolly says. "It turns out that a pole was placed above our fiber and was pressing down on it." The program pinpointed the fault (locating it precisely 3.581 m from a known point on the network).
Several events-ranging from rugby matches at the main Stadium Australia to swim meets in the Aquatic Centre-were used to test the fiber backbone and broadcast feeds. In each case, the network came through with gold medals. But now the trials are over. Organizers expect the network's performance will be just as superb during the Games Sept. 15 to Oct. 1.
However, as Phil Tully, general manager of Olympic Games technology, notes with crossed fingers, "We're counting the days to the end of the Games, not to the beginning of the Games."
Curt Harler is a freelance writer based in Ohio.
Call it an incubator, a think-tank, or a money-maker. The Australian Photonics Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) was set up to link industry, users, and researchers with an interest in fiber optics. But it has turned into much more.
"We want to be a center of excellence in photonics and improve the international competitiveness of Australian industry through transfer of photonic technology," says CRC manager Elizabeth Elenius.
CRC (www.photonics.com.au) is supported by 28 partners, including several universities and businesses ranging from the famous (like Siemens, NEC, Ericsson, and Telstra) to the emerging (like Fibernet, Virtual Photonics, and Metal Manufactures).
The project offices are located in Australian Technology Park, an office center converted from late-1800s locomotive and foundry smokestack businesses to a 21st century research facility. The technology park (www.atp.com.au) was set up to link emerging technologies and real-world needs.
In addition to photonics research, work is done in advanced computing, e-commerce, energy efficiency, and other cutting-edge technology. Other than a couple of snack bars to grab floor space in the technology park, a company's business has to be high tech. CRC fiber firms are a prime example of 21st century businesses welcomed there.
Among CRC's recent successes is the launch in April 2000 of GigaWave, from Redfern Broadband Networks. GigaWave combines several data streams onto one fiber, each on a discrete wavelength, switches any data stream in the optical or electronic domain, and does add/drop from one or multiple wavelengths at any node on a network. It supports ultra-high-bandwidth networks that range from 16 to 128 wavelengths, each of which can support capacities to 10 Gbits/sec.
"The one factor which can limit the growth of the photonics industry in Australia will be the lack of skilled people," says CRC CEO Mark Sceats. "We want to turn around the current perception that there are no jobs in science. Already, some of our companies have 40 jobs unfilled." Just to keep market share, Australia will have to create over 18,000 new jobs in the next 10 years, he figures.
Sceats feels Australia is being hurt by its lack of trained workers in the fiber field. "The complexity of optical-fiber-based systems has made them expensive and this, in turn, has slowed penetration of optics into the communications market," he says. "Optical circuitry is currently far more immature than electronic integrated circuits. This limits the functions that can be performed within the optical domain. If you can control the optical domain with electronics, you can achieve a full range of functions.
"The CRC's technology is the first to provide the interface between the traditional technologies of silicon [for electronics] and silica [for optics]," he adds.
The government did its part by establishing the CRC as a cooperative laboratory in 1992. "Australia had a history of ideas being lost offshore or languishing on the shelf," Elenius notes. The government put up $4.2 million, or 25% of the funding. The remaining 75% was private funding.
The CRC has come a long way. The incubator has produced 10 spinoffs in eight years. Redfern, the most successful of the companies, now has eight "baby Redferns" under it. Several other fiber companies are thriving, and others have gone public or spawned spinoffs.
The ultimate proof of the project is that the day-to-day workers believe in it. To assure that the profits made from CRC projects are fairly spread, all employees at CRC can invest in any CRC technology that is going commercial. A recent offering to raise $120,000 for a project attracted $600,000 from staff members alone.
"We're no longer having problems getting investment capital to grow our companies," Elenius concludes.
- Curt Harler