Day At The Races

 

Maren Bennette visits Ascot Racecourse to see what Redstone Converged Solutions have been up to in bringing their communications in to the 21st Century.

 

There has been racing at Ascot since 1711 and the course facilities have been updated many times over the years, but never so much as in the last 18 months. When the Queen cut the ribbon to officially re-open the course when Royal Ascot started on June 20th, she opened the most modern racecourse and business conference facility in Europe, if not the world.

As part of the spectacular redevelopment, Ascot Racecourse is installing a state-of-the-art unified communications system. At its heart is a Cisco IP network, which integrates voice, data and video communications. Utilising Cisco’s Connected Real Estate framework , system integrator Redstone Converged Solutions has delivered its Smart Building technology and methodologies, which has been well proven in other major construction projects such as the Bullring and Meadow Hall shopping centres.

The most visible aspect of the converged network are the 800 plus Sony plasma screens on which will be broadcast pre- and post-race interviews, together with the races themselves. The screens are connected via the IP network to the Ascot TV studio, which also provides content for the Ascot web site. The same network is being used to carry IP CCTV images to the security control centre.

Another key component in the Ascot technology installation is a Cisco Unified Contact Centre which allows Ascot to communicate far more effectively with its customers, race day partners and staff. The contact centre is comprised of a Cisco CallManager, Cisco Unified Contact Centre Express and approximately 800 Cisco IP phones that are being used within the Contact Centre, Ascot offices, temporary Tote kiosks and private boxes – including the Royal box.

 

Radical

Perhaps one of the most radical elements of the new network is the Wi-Fi system. For the first time in the UK a major sporting venue has become the airspace manager for the dozen or so separate stakeholders which would normally bring their own wireless systems along to every race meeting, causing airwave congestion. Now Ascot provides one wireless IP network which will carry real time betting information from the Tote for some 500 mobile betting stations, voice and data communications for Jockey Club officials, press photographs from wireless cameras as well as a course-wide Wi-Fi hotspot allowing visitors to access information. When not in use for racing, which only takes place on 27 days a year, the business users of the hospitality facilities will be able to access their e-mail and web services via the Wi-Fi network.

With punters money and corporate users’ confidential data to protect, security and manageability are essential. A range of Cisco network security products together with a sophisticated management solution has been installed by Redstone Converged Solutions to ensure a robust and reliable service.

The business case for deploying such advanced technology into the conservative world of horse racing had to be sold hard at board level. Sonia Hamilton, head of ICT for Ascot said “we had to prove that this technology would be cost effective, would be flexible enough to meet our networking needs for years to come and, perhaps most important of all, could be delivered on time and on budget. The successful implementation has proven all we said, beyond doubt.”

Rob Coyne, managing director of Redstone, concurred. “We have undertaken other projects as large, but never have we had to engage so many people as at Ascot. At times we had over 120 personnel on site, pulling cables, testing wireless services and setting up the IP network. To undertake such a project knowing that Royal Ascot was an event that couldn’t be rescheduled or moved to another venue without Royal assent (as was required when York racecourse was used last year) meant we had to get it right.”

Nitin Kapoor, Regional Sales Manager for Southern England, added “this was a great team effort between Ascot, Redstone and Cisco.We are delighted that our technology is playing a key role in a state of the art facility such as this.” So much so that, separately, Cisco has become a corporate sponsor of the Racecourse and will be installing a permanent customer briefing and demonstration facility in the Grandstand.

 

Convergence Arrives

Finally, let me leave you with this thought. Come June 20th, Her Majesty enters her box to watch the racing. Fancying a flutter, she reaches for the Cisco IP phone, pushes a speed dial button and is put through to the Tote. “One wants to place a monkey on one’s own nag in the 3.30”, she says, whilst checking the odds scrolling across the XML display. Then turning to the 42” IP TV plasma screen on the wall, she says “Look, Philip, there’s Charles and Camilla. What has she got on her head?” Now you know that convergence has really arrived!

 
www.redstone.co.uk