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World Cup 2018 intercom system given final rehearsal, but how did it perform? PSNEurope finds out…

The 10th edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup, held in Russia between June 17 and July 2 was the prelude to next year’s FIFA Football World Cup. For Belgian audiovisual company WNM, the tournament became the final rehearsal to test the Clear-Com FreeSpeak II digital full duplex wireless intercom system ‘live’. Marc Maes sent us this report…

WNM, based in Seraing in the Southern part of Belgium, has established a firm reputation in the field of audiovisual solutions such as broadcast, audio recording and multi-camera coverage and HF wireless transmission.

In 2010 WNM was assigned to cater for the communication system for the 19th FIFA Football World Cup in South-Africa. “It was HBS (Host Broadcast Services), FIFA’s technical broadcast partner who assigned us for the job,” explains Maxime Van Gorp, sales and marketing manager at WNM. “Since then, the confidence between HBS, FIFA and WNM has steadily grown for the coverage of sports events and the installation of intercom systems. And we supplied equipment at the Brazil Confederations Cup and 2014 Brazil World Cup.”

Van Gorp says that one year ago, a tender was issued to supply a communication solution for both the 2017 Confederation Cup and 2018 World Cup in Russia. “We won the tender bid and suggested a digital intercom system, the Clear-Com FreeSpeak II, which was then recently presented at the 2015 IBC. In addition, we took on the mixing of the stadium audio signal for international TV broadcast. For us, the contract for the ‘Confed Cup’ was a general rehearsal for next year’s World Cup, where it will be on a much larger scale.”

For the Confederations Cup, staged in four stadiums in Russia (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi), WNM dispatched three engineers to Russia. “Two sound engineers worked in HBS’s OB vans for the mixing of the stadium audio, audience atmosphere – each van covering two stadiums,” continues Van Gorp. “A third engineer, specialised in intercom solutions, worked in the 68,000 capacity Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg for the ultimate tests with the Clear-Com FreeSpeak II system.”

The complete stadium was equipped with Clear-Com equipment: alongside the FreeSpeak II wireless base station, we put in place eight Clear-Com FreeSpeak II 1,9 or 2,4 GHz antennas and seven FreeSpeak II digital wireless intercom beltpacks. Three antennas were set up in the stadium interior halls, five others were strategically positioned on the stands. The beltpacks were used by the stadium’s two floormanagers, four for the steadycam operator crew and one for the infotainment engineer, in charge of the on-screen content in the stadium.

“You could say that the Saint Petersburg stadium was FIFA’s technical test lab,” comments Van Gorp, adding that HBS was instrumental in negotiating the best available RF frequencies with the local authorities – a result of continuous dialogue between skilled engineers. A dedicated Clear-Com engineer assisted the WNM technician with the set-up and finetuning of the system in Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium.

“You could say that the Saint Petersburg stadium was FIFA’s technical test lab”

Maxime Van Gorp

As the tests during the actual football competition were congruent and conform to FIFA’s standards, the organisation confirmed its commitment to WNM’s solution with Clear-Com FreeSpeak II. “We met with overall positive reactions,” enthuses Van Gorp. “The FreeSpeak set up is fully customisable and allows maximum flexibility, unlike other systems that are quite rigid. The system is easy to set up, the base station and transceivers are interconnected via Cat5e and Cat6e network cable. Saint Petersburg was also the first time we took a fully digital wireless system abroad – we tested the Clear-Com configuration in February during a cinema event in Brussels and in various smaller football stadiums, but this was the ‘test of fire’ in presence of the FIFA officials. The optimal and reliable coverage of the whole stadium was key and the FreeSpeak II also offered excellent audio quality.”

In January next year, a team of WNM engineers will pay a technical visit to each of the 12 World Cup stadia throughout Russia. In May, WNM will install FreeSpeak II wireless base stations in each stadium, plus a total of 60 FreeSpeak II 1,9 or 2,4 GHz antennas. “The antennas and base stadium will make part of the fixed installation – in addition we supply a total of 64 FreeSpeak II intercom beltpacks for the technical crews,” explains Van Gorp.

For Clear-Com, the World Cup tournament is an excellent marketing window, illustrating the quality and reliability of the FreeSpeak II system. “Clear-Com are delighted to be working with the team at WNM providing our award-winning wireless FreeSpeak II for this prestigious event,” concludes Vincent Beek, Clear-Com regional sales manager, Russia, former CIS countries and Benelux. “We have worked with many stadia around the world, ensuring high quality wireless communication for sporting events, concerts and festivals, but to be selected as the supplier of choice at this important football event is testament to the quality of communication delivered by FreeSpeak II.”