The World Youth Day 2008 event took place in Sydney, Australia, this summer, and is the largest youth event in the world. The week-long series of events culminated in a Final Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI and was attended by hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the globe. Since its inception in 1986, it has become the largest single mobilization of young people in the world. The culmination of the event, the actual World Youth Day, has drawn millions of people in past years.
This year, in Sydney, World Youth Day attracted 223,000 registered pilgrims, including 110,000 people from 170 nations to make it the largest event ever hosted in Australia. The New South Wales government, working in tandem with event organizers and The PA People, implemented a new public address system to ensure that live pages and emergency messages could be reliably transmitted to every corner of the event. A cost-effective, flexible audio over IP distribution system featuring reliable technology from Barix AG of Zurich, Switzerland, provided the basis for comprehensive crowd management and crystal clear VoIP transmission.
Special event public announcements have previously been made using a Peavey Media Matrix located in the Government Control Centre. The audio path consisted of 10KHz lines provided by the local Telco, but these services were not available in all the required locations for the World Youth Day 2008 events, and word on the street was they were proving harder to come by.
The gradual phasing out of these audio tie lines combined with new and isolated PA locations meant an alternative solution was required for World Youth Day 2008 and future events. With no access to dedicated copper lines — which were also quite expensive — and a tight deadline to design, test and install the system, the New South Wales State government began looking into alternative solutions. The goal was to institute a reliable distribution system that could clearly transmit voice and audio to multiple PA locations across Sydney. The fact that additional PA points were added to the network leading up to this event increased the critical nature of the requirement, with serious concerns about losing functionality through the use of a new and untested system.
The New South Wales State government contracted The PA People, a specialist contractor for sound reinforcement, AV systems and communications based in Sydney, Australia, to provide the World Youth Day organizers with a city-wide PA system for general announcements, paging and emergency messaging. After teaming up with local Barix distributor PowerCorp, The PA People chose an audio over IP system featuring Barix Instreamer and Exstreamer technology as its core. The Barix audio over IP technology would provide reliable, live voice distribution and transmission that could seamlessly interoperate with existing Exstreamer mp3 audio playout systems.
The PA People integrated the Barix audio over IP solution to stream live voice from Instreamers and deliver pre-recorded announcements to a host of Barix Exstreamer 110 audio decoders, each assigned to specific zones, to decode and replay audio to local loudspeakers. Up to eight zones could be selected from the main zone Web page, with name and location details provided for each destination.
A playlist selected from more than 270 pre-recorded announcements was stored on a local USB stick in each Exstreamer with new messages being loaded as required and playlists updated over IP from the central database every two minutes. The database, configured via a simple Web-based interface, managed individual playlists for each zone. Each Exstreamer was connected via a wireless 3G data network utilizing a private IP service from Call Direct. A priority streaming port in the Exstreamers was enabled to receive emergency notification and other important real-time messages, pausing the local mp3 playlist while the live streaming was received. Barix modified its standard store-and-forward application and added the priority streaming port for this event.
According to Andrew Nisbet, ICT Integration specialist for The PA People, the Barix audio over IP hardware and a Telstra 3G UTMS data network formed the basis of the transport solution. With the expense and scarcity of hardwired solutions a significant challenge, the Barix solution proved a reliable answer to a potentially difficult situation.
“Barix delivered a very cost-effective hardware solution that combined with the Telstra Next-G wireless network and easily met our client’s playback requirements,” said Nisbet. “We arrived at a solution involving local storage and playback of messages, with the ability to record and upload new messages for automatic playlist updates. The ability to stream live audio to the sites simultaneously and centrally control playlists for each zone brought everything together.”
The Barix solution proved very effective, with announcements heard clearly throughout the city and with no interruptions in service. According to Nisbet, audio playback from the USB flash kept potential download charges to a minimum — making the most effective use of resources. In the event of an emergency or live announcement, an external switch with “standby” and “go” lights enabled the live IP stream from the central audio console and microphone.
Nisbet explained that the solution enabled The PA People to develop and extend an existing client relationship. “Our client felt they would have to lower their expectations due to the inability to find landlines at a reasonable cost, if at all,” he said. “The quality of service and low expense compared to the previous solution and new copper solutions has raised interest in expanding these services we provide for other events, based on the flexibility of the Barix technology and other components in the new system. We see significant applications in events settings both here and overseas.”
Nisbet hopes to use Barix for a variety of upcoming events in Australia, including New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Sydney Harbor Foreshore; and the “City to Surf” fun run, providing a cost-effective alternative to landlines and satellite connections for establishing audio links between the start and finish lines.
Nisbet added that Barix’s open-source BCL (Barix Coding Language) combined with the universal and inexpensive hardware devices provide a great platform to design new applications and enhance existing solutions with new or modified features.
“It’s extremely helpful when a company can offer a product that does not limit your capabilities, and gives you the flexibility to add your own features,” he said. “Our event communications department can use Barix audio over IP hardware in a wide variety of applications moving forward, and we can interface the devices to other software and hardware platforms. These features also make Barix products ideal for permanent installations through our project sales department.”
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