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Creating the Olympic network: going for the gold!

Picture icy mountains, isolated valleys, furious winter snow storms and treacherous mountain passes.

Then imagine building one of Europe's most complex and sophisticated telecommunications networks under those conditions.

Finally, envision securing that network so that will function without fail around the clock, providing broadcast to two billion TV viewers in 100 countries, and a steady flow of information to one million sports spectators and event participants.

As director of the 1992 Winner Olympic Games Media and Telecommunications, Jacques Bouillon had to do more than imagine the network; he had to build it and make it work.

Forty thousand people, including athletes, trainers, doctors, interpreters, journalists and sports officials, were involved in making the Games happen in the Savoie region of France in February.

All of these people depended on the telecom network.

To meet this challenge, Bouillon and his team came up with a three-point strategy that encompassed a state-of-the-art, user-friendly and completely reliable telecom network.

Reliability was probably the toughest challenge the team faced. The network had to provide an uninterrupted flow of information among 13 Olympics sites and to the outside world.

Bouillon's team studied past networks--especially the 1988 Winter Olympics network built in Calgary, Canada. However, it soon became clear that the French Alps posed unique challenges.

The 1988 games were held on three sites--the 1992 games in France were staged at 13 different sites spread over six hundred square miles. Ten event sites, the International Broadcast Center, main Press Center and Olympic Village were located in seven different valleys separated by step mountains.

The two most distant sites were 75 miles apart.

Because of the great distances among sites and the volatile weather conditions, Bouillon's team decided the network had to include multiple transmission links for each connection. As a result, the network was complex weaving of transmission media including satellite, fiber optics, microwaves and radio waves.

Local networks were also created at each Olympic venue for walkie-talkie traffic. "Maintenance crews, security and event judges used about 1,900 walkie-talkies," says Deputy Director Alain Roset.

And finally, a trunk system--a special radio-telephone system--was dedicated to traffic regulation. More than 1,000 Olympic Games' vehicles were equipped with radio telephones.

"We had five telecomm sponsors providing components for the network," says team member Dominique Penard.

Alcatel supplied telephones and telecomm equipment; France Telecom, telephone and telecomm services; IBM, computer equipment; France-based Thomson, television equipment; and 3M, network support with optical fiber products.

Broadcast images were transmitted via fiber, optics, microwave transmitters, satellite and copper wire. At least two media were always available--land-based fiber optics or microwaves, and satellite--to insure ability to switch from one medium to another if a breakdown occurred.

Broadcast images were transmitted by IntelSat or EutelSat networks around the world to TV networks who purchased rights to broadcast the Winter Games.

Journalists covering the games needed telephone lines for making an estimated 200,000 calls each day.

France Telecom installed an internal telephone network just for the Olympic sites. It provided top-of-the-line services and 8,000 lines.

To help them get their stories out faster, IBM provided 1,500 PS/2 computers with pressure-sensitive screens, which allowed access to data banks with such information as events results, local transportation schedules and weather.

"The system also provided electronic mail for accredited journalists and Olympic Games' employees," says Penard. "E-mail messages could be sent or received at any of the 13 Olympic sites."

Minitel terminals at all Olympic sites answered visitors' questions about specific athletes, races and more--almost the same amount of information available to Olympic journalists. To gain access, each visitor purchased a Telecarte card, a smart card containing a microchip with credit information.

"The fiber network was the backbone of the entire telecommunications infrastructure," says Bouillon. "It really supported the weight of the needs by handling the largest volume of traffic."

The primary fiber-optic network transmitted audio and video signals, telephone traffic and data among the most important Olympic sites. A secondary fiber-optic network transmitted data among 12 of the 13 Olympic venues.

To install the fibers, technicians had to dig 30-inch trenches, sometimes through snow and ice.

At each of the 12 Olympic communication sites, subcontractors installed distribution panels to connect the various fibers. With winter installation, fibers quickly became a fragile and difficult to manipulate, and electricity was not always readily available in the high French Alps.

To cope with these problems, subcontractor Spie-Trindel used only 3M ST-type fiber-optic connectors.

To reduce the risk of fiber breakage, the French Olympic committee approved the use of 1,100 Fibrlok brand optical splices.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:1992 Winter Olympic Games Media and Telecommunications
Author:Chateau, Jerome; Lamb, Mary Beth
Publication:Communications News
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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