World Cup puts converged networking to the test

Soccer’s World Cup tournament stands out as perhaps the ultimate contest of national pride, but this year’s quadrennial event will also serve as a key proof-of-concept vehicle for converged voice and data networking technology.

With 120,000 data and voice over IP telephone connections in 22 locations throughout Japan and South Korea, the World Cup’s network will be the largest converged installation to date, according to several industry analysts. And the stakes are immensely high, because media from around the world will be completely reliant on the network when covering the games, which start May 31 and end June 30.

Gerard Gouillou, CIO at the Zurich-based Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), said this has been the most difficult IT project ever for soccer’s governing body. His team began running usage simulations on the network last week, and Gouillou likes what he’s seen so far.

“The full deployment will not occur until 16 days prior to the event … but based on our testing, we do not anticipate any issues,” he said.

Proving ground

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston, said the World Cup provides a significant test case for IP telephony and voice/data convergence. “The world’s watching them here,” Kerravala said, although he added that FIFA should be able to pull off the networking job without many hitches if it’s careful to get things right before going live.

“From our experience, any bad voice-over-IP installation has [happened] because the upfront work hasn’t been done,” Kerravala said.

FIFA enjoys one luxury that most other businesses don’t: A vendor is footing the bill for its network. In fact, Avaya Inc., in Basking Ridge, N.J., paid more than $100 million for the right to build the networks for this year’s World Cup, the 2006 tournament and the women’s World Cup finals next year.

Avaya will also supply the equipment and dedicate more than 100 workers to this year’s project. Doug Gardner, managing director of Avaya’s World Cup effort, declined to disclose how much it will cost to set up and run the network.

He said the immensity of the job was compounded by a short time frame. Avaya was awarded the contract last June and has been required to set up in just nine months a network that would normally take two to three years to complete, Gardner said.

Gouillou said detailed attention has been paid to features such as redundancy, quality of service and network-monitoring capabilities.

Avaya built in 40 percent more switching capacity and network bandwidth than the expected peak usage levels, said Gardner. Partnering with telecommunications providers in Japan and South Korea, the company also laid four trunk lines across the Sea of Japan to connect the tournament’s two main IT centers. If a catastrophic failure occurs at one, the other will take over its operations, according to Gardner.