Africa: Mobile and digital to rule by 2010

Technology & Convergence

The international broadcasting centre at Nasrec in Johannesburg will ensure that billions of viewers worldwide get uninterrupted coverage of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, through satellite and fibre optic transmissions.

The world-class international broadcasting centre (IBC) planned for Nasrec will be one of the defining features that will make South Africa's World Cup a truly global event. It is expected that almost four billion spectators will rely on this technology to see the games in 2010.

Planning for the IBC started in July, when the cabinet approved Johannesburg's bid to host the international centre. And the City's 2010 project office reported on progress on the IBC during an ordinary mayoral committee meeting on 18 October.

The City of Johannesburg was finalising the lease agreement for the IBC with Fifa, the international football governing body, confirmed Sibongile Mazibuko, the City's 2010 executive director. "We are waiting for the final Fifa green light. The cabinet has given us its blessing."

The immediate priority was to have this agreement with Fifa in place, Mazibuko stressed. "The actual network plans are our next big step." The government has promised a minimum of 500,000Mbps of bandwidth to Fifa – similar to that supplied by Germany when it hosted the World Cup in 2006. The 30,000-square-metre IBC at Nasrec will accommodate about 4 000 journalists from all over the globe and all broadcasting houses will have their link only through the IBC.

Throughout the cup, the IBC will serve as the nerve centre for the world's sports media. "All telecommunications transmissions from or to venues or non-venues will end and start at the centre," 2010 Local Organising Committee's information technology manager, Zakes Mnisi, said earlier this year.

In addition, each of the 10 stadiums in the nine host cities will have one satellite dish; the IBC will have four. The IBC satellite teleport will be new and enable digital terrestrial television (DTT) and digital video broadcasting-handheld (DVB-H), the global standard in mobile broadcast technology.

Construction at Soccer City, alongside SAFA House

Signals from the technology centres at each of the 10 stadiums where matches will be played, will be sent to the IBC for onward transmission - be it in high-definition digital, standard-definition digital, standard-definition analogue or formatted for mobile devices.

South Africa's 2010 bid book submission guarantees that the information technology infrastructure will be world class. It will be up to the major three information technology stakeholders - the Local Organising Committee (LOC), Telkom, and Sentec - to ensure that the IBC is an IT success story.

Telkom's design proposal was unanimously accepted by all stakeholders before the report was tabled. In all, eight Telkom exchanges will be utilised for the IBC and Soccer City facilities. "Each of the facilities requires connection to two independent exchanges and the two facilities cannot share an exchange," the report noted. The exchanges identified are at Turffontein, Robertsham, Aeroton, Mayfair, Nancefield, Meredale, Diepkloof and Power Park.

New optic fibre cables will have to be installed between some of the exchanges. Telkom will focus on fibre connectivity specifically to those exchanges in previously disadvantaged areas to fulfil its legacy requirement.

Sentech has also provided its architectural layout for the satellite teleporting infrastructure, meeting the national guarantees of the bid proposal. It proposed two scenarios, the one fulfilling 2010 requirements, the other being the legacy infrastructure that will stay behind after the World Cup.

Once the IT infrastructure was in place, the main satellite farm at Honeydew would have a permanent backup facility, largely eliminating any international transmission breakages, the report stated. In addition, the permanent satellite link in the Nasrec area would be a major catalyst in stimulating commercial activity in the area, thus also leaving a legacy.

The infrastructure will provide wire and wireless national and international telephone, data, audio and video exchanges and carry live feeds, in high definition, from the stadiums around the country. The data will be processed at the IBC and distributed onward to broadcasters around the world.

"If the increased satellite connectivity in the area is considered in conjunction with the connectivity provided by Telkom, the legacy benefits for the area and the region are immense," the report concluded.

So far, the plan is for halls five, six, seven and eight at Nasrec to house the host broadcast services logistics offices, the Fifa co-ordination offices, the LOC offices and all South African, Asian and European broadcasters.

Next-door a 12-storey hotel will be built to accommodate journalists and IBC support staff. The onsite hotel is expected to have 500 rooms and will be completed in time for the Confederations Cup in 2009. A retail and office building, an exhibition and film centre, and an events facility will also be constructed at Nasrec.

The 500 residential units at the expo centre would be retained for the benefit of Johannesburg residents and would be available for rental or purchase after the World Cup, Mazibuko said.

Munich hosted the IBC for the German World Cup, which broadcast the action to an estimated worldwide audience of 3.6 billion people. Germany used a national fibre-optic network, duplicated in case of failure, with two 20Gbps cables leaving each of the 12 stadiums. Inside the stadiums, journalists and photographers had full access to the internet at very high speeds, allowing them to file articles and high-resolution photographs instantly to their newspapers and journals back home.

The German IBC provided almost 500 000Mbps of dedicated bandwidth infrastructure. Mazibuko said our facility would be similar to or even better than the Germans' one. Housing the IBC, Soccer City, the soccer stadium, and Safa House in one precinct meant that the media would be within walking distance of all amenities, with a bridge linking the match venue with Soccer City itself, she pointed out. "It is quite exciting to think of Nasrec as the nucleus of the World Cup."

The overall ICT infrastructure would support a variety of World Cup initiatives, including fan parks, kiosks, travel and tourism structures, emergency response teams and transport and traffic management.

The broadcasting centre will take about five months to complete and upgrading will start in the next financial year. "We, as the City will hand over the ready site as required by Fifa in January 2010," Mazibuko confirmed.

Johannesburg has committed R120-million to the IBC. This sum excludes the infrastructure investments that will be made by Telkom and Sentec. "The IBC project is supported by a guarantee from the national Department of Communication and other budget allocations will be made by the national department."

The total cost of the information technology upgrades to the country will be between R2-billion and R5-billion.