Networking opportunities

AUTHOR: Inavate

Chris Fitzsimmons reports from Lyon, France on an extensive infrastructure and equipment refresh at the Cité Des Congrés, part of the Cité Internationale. The installation was carried out by GL Events, who also provide AV systems operation and technical management on the site.

The Cité Internationale, located on the banks of the River Rhône in Lyon, was first built in 1994. It contains an interesting mix of museums, office space (including the European HQ of Interpol), a number of restaurants, and of course the Cité Des Congrés, which spans the whole length of the site both above and below ground.

The original conference facilities included two moderately sized auditoriums for 900 and 300 people and more than 20 meeting and breakout rooms. Below the ground level are several thousand square metres of multipurpose, re-configurable space divided into six Forums. Finally, in 2006, a new area was added, with the completion of a 3000 seat auditorium at the western end of the site. It was the addition of this new facility that prompted a rethink of the site’s AV facilities and infrastructure. The aim was to be able to simply distribute audio and video signals throughout both the new parts and old parts of the site.

However, when the old part was first built, not much thought was given to how that might be achieved. In addition, the fibre links that were installed for the 2006 construction were only multimode, severely restricting the bandwidth available.

Therefore since the opening of the new auditorium GL Events and the Cité’s management have been working on the problem. The first step has been a total overhaul of the infrastructure of the site.

A massive IP-network has been installed site-wide. The backbone of which is a new run of single-mode fibre. Since the old multimode was concreted into the ground there was no option to pull out the old and replace with new, GL Events had to lay a completely newset of ducts.

“The fibre links are compulsory due to the huge distances involved. We are talking about some spaces that are 200 metres long, as well as the distances between rooms themselves,” commented Matthieu Chautain from GL Events.

The current structure of the network is two large fibre daisy chains, one in the old and one in the new part of the site, however once all the inter-building links go live, it is intended to join the ends to make a loop structure and make the whole system fault tolerant. Audio signal distribution will be performed using Ethersound. GL Events has installed a large number of ES8 and ES220 Ethersound interfaces from Digigram (more than 40 at the time of our site visit).

Control of the Ethersound network is carried out using Auvitran’s ES Monitor software. This is run from the main rack room of the site, and then GL Events supplied a dozen or so wireless laptops, which use remote desktop software to access the master computer. The software provides matrix control, level control, muting, source selection and EQ control for any zone on the site.

The laptops are connected using a Cisco WAN infrastructure. There are 52 access points located around the conference centre, and functionality within the Cisco backbone means that a user can seamlessly roam between them without losing connection to the network.

The new auditorium itself is also having an internal face lift infrastructure wise, dramatically increasing its reliance on digital audio. The digital signal path previously only ran from stage boxes to the control room, however in the new system everything is digital right up to the amplifier. More ES interfaces from Digigram and NetCira interface cards for the Yamaha consoles are making this possible.

GL Events has also installed more than 20 fibre breakout boxes around the main stage. This will allow stage boxes to be flexibly positioned.

The video distribution infrastructure will run on a parallel network using Extron RGBHV and SDI signal converters and fibre matrices.

Aside from the signal distribution system, GL Events has also installed an extensive digital signage network based on IPTV technology. Each room features a TerraCue RGB / SDI input, and an IP output encoder for transmitting signals into the extensive IP network. These are paired with Aminet set-top boxes, which will be able to receive signals from elsewhere in the site.

“The goal is also to broadcast 12 IPTV channels from external TV stations and local production, or general content from PCs for public information display. There are a total of about 300 rooms with displays connected to the network with Aminent HD decoders. There are also future plans to install a further 50 displays in corridors and outside rooms for more information,” states Chautain.

Controlling and managing the set top boxes proved a bit of a head-ache for the integrators. Unable to find a suitable software solution to interact with the Aminet boxes, GL Events finally commissioned some custom software which also
runs on the wireless enabled laptops.

The meeting rooms themselves are relatively modestly equipped, and contain an eclectic mixture of equipment, reflecting the fact that the old half of the site has been in operation for nearly 15 years. Many are equipped with Extron’s Medialink control solution, and those with sound reinforcement use Yamaha’s MG16 consoles to provide a level of EQ. These themselves are not digitally linked to the network, instead more Digigram ES8 interfaces bring fibre up to the amplifier before the last part of the run is done with an analogue signal.

The installation at Cité Des Congrés is a strong reminder that all AV installations are not carried out in shiny new buildings with the latest gear. In fact, I’m certain that most are not. However, it also demonstrates the flexibility of modern networking technologies combined with EtherSound in over-coming issues such as legacy infrastructure and configurable spaces.