The 2016 Australian Open Tennis tournament saw more than 720,000 visitors take in the iconic Grand Slam from January 18 to 31 in Melbourne, with local host broadcaster the Seven Network sending the major matches live Australia-wide. International broadcasters including ESPN, beIN Sports, SuperSport, Eurosport, CCTV, NHK and Sky transmitted the action to hundreds of millions more. Backing up all the broadcasters with the infrastructure they needed to cover an international sporting event was Gearhouse Broadcast Australia, whose relatively new Event Communications division was on-site and using Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak II full-duplex wireless communications system.
“We used three FreeSpeak II systems for three broadcasters including EPSN,” explained Jason Owen, Manager of Event Communications at Gearhouse. “The main driver behind choosing FreeSpeak II was the limitations we face with regards to spectrum. Whilst we work very closely with the ACMA for our broadcast and event communications licensing, there are undoubtedly situations where there is simply not enough usable spectrum available to deliver what our clients need. Systems like FreeSpeak II, which operate in the DECT class-licensed band, give us more flexibility. It’s a tool for us to use to save traditional LMR spectrum. It offers higher quality audio than a two-way radio, and because it’s a multi-channel device, it means users that users that currently wear two radios and two headsets can wear just one FreeSpeak II beltpack instead.”
The Australian Open is a long-term client of Gearhouse Broadcast, whose footprint at the Tennis Centre had been expanding gradually over the years. Gearhouse’s Event Communications division, which started in mid-2015, represents a significant part of the increase in their responsibilities. “We’ve invested in Clear-Com because of our growth,” elaborated Jason. “We have been contracted as the comms provider for broadcast productions such as ‘Survivor’, ‘The Bachelor’, and ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’, as well as live productions like the Victorian and New South Wales Schools Spectaculars.”
The Australian Open sees Gearhouse building and kitting out several small studio spaces for guest broadcasters. “They rent their own studio space, which we facilitate in terms of broadcast equipment,” Jason continued. “They have all the normal staff a broadcast studio would have, but they’re all on wireless comms; it forms an essential part of their workflow. So instead of wasting a two-way radio on such a small environment, we can use FreeSpeak II and free up UHF channels.”
Jason and the Gearhouse team ran 26 FreeSpeak II 1.9GHz beltpacks and three FreeSpeak II-Base basestations in the globally license-free 1.897 to 1.933GHz range through the course of the two-week competition. “The FreeSpeak II systems worked flawlessly,” Jason reported. “We put FreeSpeak II into shows that other product can’t handle, and we plan to deploy double the amount of units on The Australian Open next year.”
Keeping ahead of the constantly changing radio spectrum environment in Australia while satisfying customers who increasingly rely on wireless devices is a big challenge for Gearhouse. “We have to find ways to provide our clients with the services they need, but also maintain compliance and keep the ACMA on-side,” Jason related. “People want wireless connectivity, but sometimes the availability of usable spectrum limits the amount of concurrent services we can operate at one site. I’ve been using DECT products for over five years, and there’s not many places where that spectrum isn’t viable. We also know we can rely on absolutely perfect support from Jands.”
Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.