Republicans wire Xcel Center for political convention

The GOP turned to Qwest to completely rewire the Xcel Center for its national convention this week.

ST. PAUL, Minn.--Plans for the Republican National Convention taking place here this week have been scaled back somewhat because of Hurricane Gustav, but wiring the convention nevertheless amounts to an impressive technical feat.

The GOP anticipates around 45,000 people arriving for the convention. And to accommodate delegates' cell phones, broadcasters' videocameras, and numerous other gadgets, the party has spent the last 16 months rewiring the Xcel Energy Center from the ground up.

"The good thing about the Xcel Center is it's a very modern building," making the process relatively painless, said Max Everett, RNC chief information officer.

Qwest Communications, the official communications provider, has laid the groundwork for wireline voice and data services in the Xcel Center. The aggregate data capacity of Qwest's network is about 50 billion bits per second--fast enough to transmit an entire HD movie in just a few seconds.

Though the eight-year-old Xcel Center is modern, as Everett said, Qwest overlaid 100 percent of the wiring in the building. Trent Clausen, Qwest's director of network operations for the RNC, said that the building's age made the transition to Qwest's network "pretty seamless."

Everett said the openness of the Xcel Center's arena gave crews a number of different conduits through which to run cables but made it a challenge to keep wiring out of the way. Upgrading the facility required 229 miles of copper and coaxial cable and 12 miles of high-capacity fiber-optic lines for a network spanning more than 138,000 route miles.

Ethernet-based service at a 10-Megabit or 100-Megabit level will be available to anyone who orders it anywhere within the Xcel Center or the adjacent parking lots. Qwest will be able to deliver up to a gigabyte of bandwidth via Ethernet to any point in the venue.

"We've done provisioning of services to anywhere someone wants a drop," Clausen said. "So even if somebody requests a service at a far corner of a storeroom, we have generally honored every one of those requests."

Qwest also installed video equipment at the Xcel Center with the capability to handle more than 150 simultaneous feeds.

"That's true broadcast circuitry, HD or otherwise," Clausen said.

Everett said the GOP will be streaming a much higher volume of video than it has at previous conventions, and from multiple locations, "in an effort to give people a better view of what it's like on the ground here at the convention."

Ustream.TV is the official live streaming video provider for the convention and will arrange live Web video chats so bloggers and journalists can interview Republican officials remotely. Video from the convention will be archived and available for other media outlets to repost.

Live and archived digital broadcast coverage of the event will also be available from ShadowTV, the official broadcast monitoring provider for the convention. ShadowTV will also notify the RNC whenever any convention-related news is reported by any of the more than 250 television stations that ShadowTV montors.

The convention staff is also getting special attention from Cisco Systems, which is providing the staff with a unified platform for voice, video, data, and mobile applications. The platform will not only be available at the Xcel Center, but also nearby hotels and other convention facilities like the RiverCentre. Cisco is providing core networking infrastructure switching and routing for the RNC, along with wireless access, digital signage throughout the Xcel Center, and on-site services.

The RNC also is turning to cloud computing. At previous conventions, each of the about 5,000 delegates attending the convention registered by mailing in an eight-page document that was manually typed into the RNC's system. This year, the RNC will use to register the delegates, with an automated application built by Appirio.

Network security for convention attendees will be provided by Cisco, Qwest, Microsoft, and McAfee. Unisys will provide IT support such as monitoring the convention servers.

"One thing we have to keep in mind is the balance of security and keeping things open since there are a lot of volunteers who come in at the last minute," Everett said.

A number of other companies have helped the RNC bolster the technical infrastructure of its event facilities. AT&T, along with other major cellular carriers like Verizon have been upgrading their wireless coverage around the convention venues. Hewlett-Packard is equipping the Republican staff with high-speed, efficient printers, Everett said.

Once the conventions are over, the excitement will be gone, but a lot of work will remain. "There's a lot of temporary scaffolding that will all come out at the end," Everett said. Much of the infrastructure Qwest has put in place around the Xcel Center will be left in place, Clausen said.

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