Network-Based Solutions

Over the past 25 years, The P.A. People have developed a reputation as one of the world’s leading event communications providers. Now located in its new facility in suburban Greenacre in middle Sydney, the company continues to expand its rental communications and audio hire fleet.

Throughout that period, a key feature of The P.A. People’s approach has been its focus on network-based solutions as the core of its rental fleet offering. That focus has proven time and again to be a significant enabler and differentiator in the company’s Event Communications rental offering.

Back in the late 1990s, network audio was beginning to emerge. The P.A. People and its sister entity Creative Audio were early adopters of this technology, and installed a number of large CobraNet based systems in The Sydney Opera House, Stadium Australia, and the site-wide system covering the entire Sydney Olympic Park precinct.

As part of its involvement in the Ceremonies for the Athens Olympics in 2004, the event’s production team identified a requirement to add an intercom communications panel on the other side of a busy freeway adjacent to the stadium. Back then there was no native IP connectivity and intercom panels were connected back to the frame as analog audio with RS422 data streams. The P.A People had previously supplied the production with some novel Free Space Optical (FSO) 100m Ethernet links to provide a data connection between the Stadium and their offices, so a solution was devised using an additional FSO, CobraNet audio transport and a set of RS422 modems all over Ethernet. Not very elegant by today’s standards, but it worked.

By 2006, a new digital audio transport was coming to the fore, with the good folks at Australian start-up Audinate releasing Dante to the market in the late 2000s. More on this later.

Meanwhile, around 2010, Clear-Com continued to innovate with the release of a direct IP network connection between their HX Eclipse frame and their key stations. As an early adopter, this proved to be a watershed moment for intercom in general and for The P.A. People in particular. For the first time, the notion of being able to extend the reach of a production intercom system between sites was becoming a reality – no longer would we need to rely on PSTN telephone hybrids and ISDN connections to create multi-venue events.

Since then, The P.A. People would extend their focus on the use of networks as the backbone of the Event Communications offering.

The P.A. People has continued to extend the use of IP based intercom solutions for multi-venue events. One of the challenges in creating multi-venue solutions has been the short-term nature of the requirement, and the inherent complexity of creating the necessary routing between systems. Some of these interoperability issues were overcome by installing a large Clear-Com HX intercom frame in an Australian data centre.

In recent years Clear-Com released Agent IC (virtual end point for Apple and Android) and Station IC which extends the solution to the desktop. Coupled with the Clear-Com LQ product, The P.A. People are able to provide large scale multi-venue solutions with both hardware and virtual endpoints, albeit with the costs associated with having physical intercom main frames tied up in data centres.

“This solution has been very effective throughout the pandemic, and has proved invaluable in allowing personnel to work from home as part of a team, even to the extent where we had a client show calling a major event on a physical key station from his house in Western Sydney,” muses Nicky Dodds, Manager Event Communications at The P.A. People

“A key to our story with both audio and communications is our investment throughout the pandemic in upskilling our team with a comprehensive understanding of ‘Networking for Entertainment’, which has paid significant dividends. No longer do we reach for splitters, multicores or multipins, rather the tools of choice are network switches, fibre optic cables, wireless links, and Uninterruptible Power Supplies. The network is the backbone of the event, and attention to detail in design and management is essential,” she continues.

Today, The P.A. People’s audio systems are almost entirely centred on Dante. The company has embraced the world’s best audio and networking technology manufacturers; Yamaha Rivage PM5 and DM7 mixing desks, Shure radio mics, and Linea Research amplifiers and processors, which all provide direct connections to the Dante network.

“Soon we will be providing systems where the audio remains in the digital domain from the mic capsule through to the output of the amplifier. No need for mic splitters or additional cabling in large and complex systems. Our redundant Primary and Secondary networks will take care of signal routing between multiple consoles and systems.”

Earlier this year Clear-Com released Gen-IC, a next generation cloud-based intercom solution that removes the need for frames in the data centre, and that promises to democratise multi-venue and virtual intercom systems and provide an off the shelf solution to link both virtual and physical intercom solutions into a complete integrated package.

“This is what we have been waiting for,” Dodds concludes.