> Goog bye Cables

At its latest installation in Abu Dhabi, Ateïs Middle East has utilised the IP backbone of the new Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel to send BGM to the various zones. James Ling reports

 

September/ October 2010

Hotel sound system installations are usually a fairly straightforward job. The design will call for an audio network to play BGM in all the public areas of the hotel, and for various restaurants and bars to have their own selectable sources on top of this. One of the key parts of this is the audio cabling which will link all the systems together and allow the control units to feed back to a central hub. But what happens if you remove the dedicated audio cabling for this and instead use the IP backbone of the hotel? This is a technique Ateïs Middle East is using at its latest install project at the new Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

‘It’s a completely IP-based BGM system,’ explains Rakesh Ravindran, regional systems engineer for Ateïs Middle East. ‘We are streaming music over the IP network and it is being distributed all over the hotel. There’s no actual cabling going in, it’s all done over the network.’ Ateïs designed the system for this project around a year ago, and the concept for the installation is similar to VoIP (voice over IP), says Mr Ravindran. ‘It encodes in MP3 quality format, however it also has a facility to be encoded in Speex – a highly compact decoding used especially for the voice evacuation solution.’

To achieve this, Ateïs has installed VNB modules: ‘They convert the analogue audio input through the IP gate into the IP network. It travels through the network and structured cabling of the building and doesn’t utilise any other cables other than speaker cables and amplifiers,’ explains Mr Ravindran. ‘At each level there is an amplifier and speaker circuit, that’s the only thing that cabling is involved with, between levels it’s all over the network.’ All the VNB’s are installed in the same IT racks, hence no extra racks are needed.

There are two methods of networking protocols, broadcast and multicast. For this project Mr Ravindran has opted to use multicast. ‘With the multiple zones and the various control methods I had to use multicast,’ he explains. ‘Broadcast would not have been appropriate.’

Taking this different approach to the install has created a number of challenges for Ateïs. ‘With the simple requirements of Virtual Private Network (VPN), we had to make sure our traffic would not interfere with the other traffic on the network. It’s simple IT,’ says Mr Ravindran.

Virtual private networks are a must for any IT network to work with multiple systems as they limit and dedicate a channel or bandwidth for every system to operate within. ‘Emirates Computers were the IT specialists on this job and they provided all the necessary IT requirements to this project.’

Building the URC

To meet the needs of the project, Ateïs has launched a second generation of its Universal Remote Control (URC) that now also runs over IP. ‘We assign it an IP address and it’s just like an IP module. It controls a particular VNB module with parameters such as music channel selection and volume controlled through the unit,’ explains Mr Ravindran. The unit itself was developed specifically for this installation and went through the product development and a stringent testing process over six months. ‘Ateïs kept its promise as usual and managed the pressure of delivery for the fast track project,’ recalls Ahmed Bairakji, Ateïs’ regional business manager.

 

The company has continued to develop the URC and has completed the testing stage of adding touchscreen functionality to the unit. The product now has a large full-colour screen that is touch sensitive and can be integrated to any of the other IP systems on the network. ‘From one unit you can select the music, route music from one zone to another. The new generation shall integrate automation features within such light and dimming management, integrate with the IP telephony and with any third party utilising TCP/IP as a protocol. It’s a window to unlimited applications,’ explains Hussam Al Haddad, general manager of Ateïs ME.

A total of 40 URCs have been installed across the hotel. ‘We use URCs for all our projects – there should be a controller for controlling volume and selecting channels. But on this particular project since everything is streamed over the IP network, we had to use a controller that is also IP-based,’ says Mr Ravindran. ‘All these units are POE, which was an extra challenge for this particular project.’

Around the hotel

The commissioning of such a large project is a major job, but perhaps surprisingly, Mr Ravindran describes it as quite a simple process. ‘It’s just routing and everything is on the network.’ The network has been built so that it is possible to check exactly what is being played out in the various zones. ‘If you want to know what is being played, you open the VLC player, punch in the IP reports and you get the music that is being streamed.’

The MP3s for the BGM system are all stored on a server. ‘I have created eight folders on the server and have put MP3s into each folder. Each folder has 100 MP3s and any folder can be selected from the URCs, so the music is being streamed from a PC,’ says Mr Ravindran. To supplement this, there is also the option of using additional CD and MP3 players.

On top of the BGM system, ATEÏS is also providing the evacuation system. Again, this runs over IP and there is a facility in the streamers that enables it to override the BGM system when there is an emergency.

The main advantage that Mr Bairakji can see from the installation is the after-sales benefit for the client. ‘It’s very easy to maintain, install and manage! it is an investment for the future.’

 

The hotel has been broken down into 80 zones and has 35 module streamers. The different areas within the hotel each brought its own unique challenge. The first floor restaurant, for example, is a very large open space with no barriers to act as a natural position to break the facility down into different zones. This meant the whole restaurant needed to be installed as one zone but over four speaker circuits.

The converse is true at the Asian restaurant, which is broken down into three zones for its different areas, including VIP private dining. Each zone features its own URC and audio jack. The audio jack in the VIP area was originally a data point; this was removed and replaced with the jack and Ateïs solution to run over the structured cabling.

The floor that contains the spa and gym is again divided into multiple zones for the audio. The rack room to cover the network is located in the car park, allowing easy access to the equipment without the need for technicians to enter the main customer-facing areas. In the gym, the main challenge resulted from different ceiling heights in different sections. ‘The timings were different for the two heights and the speakers for the higher section of the ceiling were more powerful. We have also done an SPL test to balance the sound levels throughout the room,’ explains Mr Ravindran.

Even the bathrooms for the hotel rooms have provided a challenge for Ateïs, as well as a new business opportunity. Here the manufacturer developed a unit to act as a channel selector as well as a volume controller. ‘It has a unique sound quality that matches the prestige of the many hotel rooms that we have executed,’ says Mr Bairakji.

The project has become a reference site for Ateïs to show off its IP technology, as Mr Bairakji enthuses: ‘We strive to lead the market in PA/VA and IP solutions. Without a doubt, we shall secure many major installations to come based on IP technology. The Dubai Metro and Millennium Hotels are just the start!’

The importance of IP

This is not the first time that Ateïs has used IP networks to link stations for PA and evacuation systems, having utilised the technology at various projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. ‘One area where IP adds value to audio systems is with the ease of installation,’ explains Mr Al Haddad. ‘All IP products are becoming ‘plug and play’ and it is a very common method of transferring information – so why not audio?’

A further advantage of taking the IP route is that all modern buildings are built with a structured cabling infrastructure and a network. ‘With the compression that we have, it takes very little bandwidth over the virtual network.’ In fact it is the bandwidth that is the only limiting factor for IP projects, as this dictates the volume of data that can be sent through the network. ‘We can virtually go to an unlimited number of channels and we can route any input to any output and that’s all dependent on the bandwidth,’ says Mr Al Haddad.

One of the real advantages of audio over IP pinpointed by the general manager is there can be an outlet in every room. ‘Placing a paging mic, a URC control or a music source is made really easy. You can put it anywhere you want.’ A good example of this functionality can be seen in the Al Wahda Hotel, where every URC also has an audio source point installed with it.

Making clear the importance that Ateïs places on the development of IP-based solutions, Mr Al Haddad declares that the manufacturer will ‘not stop at this level. We aim to have the number one IP-based solution in the region for voice evacuation, BGM, pro audio and automation.’

This may have been the first time that Ateïs has used this technology for a BGM system, but it won’t be the last. The time saved on site by not needing to pull miles of audio cables and the long-term cost benefits of utilising the existing infrastructure means that this could well be a solution many companies turn to in the future. And with the Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel as a reference site, ATEÏS is well positioned to take this technology forward.

 

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