WORLD CUP - South African games pose big IT challenge

South Africa will have a challenge to meet the technical precision of the German World Cup soccer tournament.

Germany is putting on a good World Cup soccer tournament -- so good in fact that some networking experts wonder whether they'll be able to pull off a similar feat when the championship takes place in South Africa four years from now.

"We know that the communications infrastructure in South Africa isn't as advanced as it is in Germany, so building a network similar to one we have here will be a big challenge," Peter Meyer, head of IT at the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), said Saturday in an interview at the group's IT control center in Munich.

For sure, Germany has raised the bar for technical precision at a World Cup event.

The more than 3 million fans attending the 64 games have tickets embedded with an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip that contains identification information, to be checked against a database as they pass through entrance gates at all 12 stadiums.

Police, fire and emergency squads at every stadium will use TETRA (tap-proof digital terrestrial trunked radio) phones. The handsets are also be equipped with a GPS (Global Positioning System) transceiver so that emergency personnel can be located and directed to wherever they are needed.

The National Information and Cooperation Center (NICC), located deep inside the German Interior Ministry, is manned around the clock for the duration of the month-long event by security experts from around 20 government agencies, including the Federal Intelligence Service and the Federal Office for Information Security, in addition to Europol and Interpol. Each of the 22 groups in the center operates its own communications network and, in some cases, has established a special unit to monitor activities during the games. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, for instance, has a special unit monitoring possible terrorist attacks, while the Federal Police Office has one focused on hooligans.

In addition, each of the stadiums is equipped with 23 HDTV cameras and connected via dual fiber optic links to a super high-speed backbone capable of transporting data at speeds up to 480G bps (bits per second). Broadband satellite links are held in reserve to connect the stadiums if anything should happen to the fiber connections.

"We know we won't have the same infrastructure in South Africa," Meyer said. "But you don't know what can happen over the next couple of years."

An industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said FIFA will likely have to help fund infrastructure projects in South Africa to ensure their completion. "They'll have to dip into the bucket of money they're going to make from the German games to make sure there aren't any hiccups in Africa," he said.

Networking experts at FIFA will soon begin to map out a plan of action for the South African games, according to Meyer. "We don't have a solution yet but we'll have one," he said. "You can be sure of that."

For lack of sufficient infrastructure in the region, FIFA could turn to new technologies for help.

Even though the association insisted on having all its key sites in Germany, including stadiums, training grounds, management offices and hotels, linked by cable to back up wireless connections, Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies could "play a much stronger role in South Africa," Meyer said.

Web services will also play a big role, to add flexibility to FIFA's complex event-centric computing needs. "A big difference between the German World Cup games and the previous tournaments was our extensive use of Web services," Meyer said. "And I think that a big difference between the German games and those coming up in South Africa will be our efforts to have everything based on Web services. The Internet is going to be bigger than it already is in our operations."

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