August 22, 2008, 4:18 PM — With more than 50,000 tech-savvy politicians, aides, wonks, delegates and journalists descending on Denver next week for the Democratic National Convention, you can imagine that any network deployed at the convention site will have to be huge.
Qwest already has completed much of the heavy lifting to upgrade its network deployment at Denver's Pepsi Center. It has laid down an additional 3,400 standard voice lines and 2,600 new data lines, and has upgraded its infrastructure with 3,344 miles of fiber and 140 miles of copper and coaxial cable. Additionally, Qwest is deploying video equipment that can handle 130 simultaneous video feeds, and is providing convention goers with a 40Gbps Ethernet pipe.
The 40Gbps Ethernet network will deliver speeds head-and-shoulders faster than did the network deployed at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, which relied on DSL capabilities for Internet access, says Rick Mabry, Qwest's director of network operations.
"It will be 10 times the size of the Super Bowl," Mabry says. "The scale of this network is so large that instead of laying stuff down on the ground, we put it underground and are bringing it up to where it's needed."
Qwest began working in earnest on deploying and upgrading the network in May, two months before the Democratic National Committee took official ownership of the Pepsi Center for the convention. The company decided to lay down most of the cable under the convention floor, then bore holes up to major hubs where people are most likely to need high-speed Web and voice connectivity. The company also is selling bandwidth to individual customers who want their own personalized connections to the Web on the convention floor, with offerings ranging from 10Mbps to 1Gbps.
While landline Web and voice connectivity obviously is a big part of the DNC's network needs, there's also demand for high-quality wireless voice and data services for Blackberry-wielding convention goers who might not have time to sit down at a designated Internet terminal with their laptops. For those capabilities, network infrastructure company ADC will deploy its InterReach Fusion in-building cellular systems to deliver multicarrier cellular signals to the Pepsi Center, Invesco Field and other official convention locations.
"The equipment that we're installing basically looks like a Wi-Fi network that's geared for cellular coverage," says John Niedermaier, ADC's vice president and general manager for in-building wireless services. "What happens is that wireless operators will put in base stations on-site, and from those base stations we will transport their signals from various parts of the buildings through antenna points."
ADC's system has been designed to hold up to the heavy wireless traffic anticipated at the convention, and it can simulcast to "any part of the convention center," thus allowing the company to shift signal strength to where there is the most activity, Niedermaier says.
In total, the company is deploying 23 InterReach Fusion hubs that support signals from multiple carriers and frequencies from 800MHz to 2.1GHz, 25 expansion hubs that convert optical signals to electrical signals, and 92 remote antenna units that receive the electrical signals directly to and from wireless phones and PDAs. Because ADC is expecting an unusually high amount of wireless activity, Niedermaier says the company is preparing for as much as 10 times the capacity it would normally need when hooking up as large a site as the Pepsi Center.
Streaming video to 'Net audiences
Of course, in some ways Qwest and ADC have things easy. After all, they only have to deliver voice and data connections to the 50,000 people attending the convention. Content-delivery network (CDN) vendor Level 3 Communications, on the other hand, has been given the task of delivering the DNC to everyone who wants to watch the convention live over the Internet.
To provide live streaming video of the DNC over the Web sites of major television networks and the Democratic National Convention Committee, Level 3 is deploying its transport equipment to aggregate fiber and connect it to the company's POP in Denver, then distribute video over its CDN to streaming locations. Level 3 also will cache all content from the DNC and make it available on-demand for anyone who wants to watch events they may have missed.
This year's DNC has broken new ground for online-content demand because the audience for the convention online will be bigger than before, says Maria Farnon, Level 3's vice president for content markets and product delivery. And it's not just the sheer number of viewers that makes providing online content for the DNC such a challenge: The advent of high-definition television has drastically raised viewer expectations for what picture quality should look like.
"We're all used to user-generated content on YouTube that can be choppy," Farnon says. "But I think for producers of truly large events, we're looking for a much higher level of quality in that delivery."
Qwest, ADC and Level 3 say that planning and foresight have been incredibly important in effectively networking such a large-scale event as the DNC. Farnon, for instance, says that Level 3 began working on the DNC project over a year ago, and the company has a dedicated team of around 50 people who work in everything from transport engineering teams to field technician teams to media operations teams. Mabry, meanwhile, says that Qwest is making its network "fail proof" by having a backup network at another site in place that will reroute services automatically at the convention even if a primary cable is cut.
Even so, extensive planning will only get you so far, Niedermaier says. An operation with as many moving parts as a major political convention requires the ability to respond to unexpected events quickly to meet sudden upticks in capacity demand.
"The key is being able to have equipment and services available on a short-term basis to meet a very tight timeline," Niedermaier says. "So, if a wireless operator detects that there's a capacity need, we have to move our radios into a base-station hotel, or even move our base station into a different area or venue."