Unified communications takes center field at ballpark

Unified communications takes center field at ballpark

UC turns the New York Mets network into a fastball.

The New York Mets will have new networking and unified communications systems in their new home, Citi Field, when they start playing baseball there next spring.

For Joe Milone, the organization's senior director of information systems and technology, the first big test will come Friday, when the data center at the Mets' Shea Stadium is moved to the 42,000-seat Citi Field, located in the outfield parking lot between Shea Stadium and 126th Street in Flushing, in the borough of Queens.

Milone sees the new stadium as an opportunity to build a multimillion-dollar network that will expand to include several unified communications applications and architectures from networking equipment vendor Nortel Networks.

"UC is a broad term, which I define as the ability to use technology for everybody on staff to communicate," he said in a recent interview. In the case of Citi Field, it means that nearly 200 full-time employees will have the ability to easily tie teleconference bridges into the network and receive voice mails and faxes in their e-mail in-boxes, among other things.

Working with Nortel, Milone also will get access to the Microsoft Office Communications Server for deploying the conferencing bridge and an internal instant messaging function. He said the Mets hope to take advantage of "all kinds of OCS hooks" in the future.

"The features we're getting are really broad," Milone said. He's also exploring whether to have desk phones extend to cell phones, so that a single call can move seamlessly between wired and wireless devices with the touch of a couple of keys.

In another example of UC convergence, all the digital game videos that are held in the SAN inside the new data center will be piped over the network using IP, meaning that historic game clips can be quickly posted on giant video screens for fans to see.

In addition, about half of the 70 call-center agents who will work in a new administration building connected to Citi Field will use phones running over IP in the network. Nortel's design allows traditional circuit-switched calling alongside IP communications, so Milone has decided to keep the other half of the call center agents on traditional phone gear as a backup in the event of an IP network problem.

"Our call center is where we sell tickets, so it's our bread and butter," he noted.

The call center backup strategy is one reason Milone picked Nortel over several other major networking vendors, but another selling point was Nortel's ability to provide switching fail-over in less than one second. If a switch fails, a backup will move video or IP phone calls to another switch, using an Ethernet backbone rated at 20Gbit/sec.

Milone also said it helped that Nortel could show that its networking gear uses less energy than that of major competitors, a factor that mattered to the Mets owners, who wanted to build an energy-efficient ballpark.

Citi Field will have as many as 250 Wi-Fi access points to support a range of functions, including wireless ticket-scanning and letting fans order food from their seats. The Wi-Fi gear from Nortel is not rated for the 802.11n draft standard but can be easily upgraded once the final standard is in place, Milone said.

"We're trying to futureproof the network as much as possible in anticipation of all kinds of applications," Milone said. "We think we've done a good job tackling that. We're trying to make the best fan experience we can."

Wes Durow, Nortel's vice president of enterprise marketing, said Nortel has built a reputation for building networks inside sporting arenas. He estimated that Nortel gear has been used in half of the Major League Baseball parks that are either new or under renovation.

Nortel has also been chosen to provide network equipment for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London.

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Tags unified communicationsWi-Finortel

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