With its roots in conferencing harking back to the early 1990s, CMS Australasia has organically grown into a customer-driven, bespoke event production company with offices in Melbourne and Brisbane, and presence in Sydney and Perth. CMS provides media and content creation, theming, and live streaming services, in addition to the core technical backbone of AV and staging.
Every event CMS produce needs reliable communications equipment, whether it’s an intimate gig, a corporate conference across multiple rooms and levels, or a massive arena-based sporting event. Having trialled multiple brands and hybrid systems over the years, CMS have adopted Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak II wireless comms system as their preferred solution.
CMS are the production partner for all National Basketball League games at Melbourne Arena, providing communications links across staging, production, and broadcast. CMS service up to 30 basketball games a year at Melbourne Arena, which require comms infrastructure to be brought in and taken out for each event.
The operations position for CMS at Melbourne Arena is located under a seating bank, away from the view of the crowd. Reporting back to this main position are comms links to the client, show call, broadcast, and various private lines. The comms system needs to cover the entire bowl of the Arena, plus its system of underground tunnels. Challenges include long distances between comms locations, reflections and interference caused by the large amount of steel in the venue and the curved roof, and coverage blackspots in the remoteness of the underground tunnels.
Before investing in FreeSpeak II, CMS had deployed a hybrid comms system in Melbourne Arena that utilised an IP-based cabled solution, wireless beltpacks, and a two-way hybrid. Issues with this system included long cable runs, a time-consuming set-up and teardown, and wireless dropouts.
CMS has invested in an inventory of FreeSpeak II master stations, beltpacks, and antenna distribution that they have housed in a modular roadcase system that includes power, control, and accessories. Each custom-made kit supports 25 FSII-BP beltpacks, which operate in the 1.9GHz DECT frequency range, keeping them clear of Wi-Fi and other user-intensive ranges of the radio spectrum.
Before rolling in for the game, CMS preconfigure their systems in their warehouse with the Core Configuration Manager (CCM) software, assigning beltpack channel names and numbers, talk and listen roles, and antenna names and locations. Extra beltpacks are sometimes required for bigger events, and they can be added at preproduction or on-the-fly at the gig. Occasionally, two-way or wired communications integration is required, and the FreeSpeak II base stations are connected to a radio hybrid, or two-wire and four-wire comms.
FreeSpeak II coverage for the entire Arena takes just five or six antennas, with one or two allocated to the underground tunnels. The antennas are connected by Cat5 runs to their splitters, and conveniently powered by PoE.
The antennas are omnidirectional, making for flexible placement, and can register five beltpacks each simultaneously. As the operations position can see a lot of staff gather there at once, three antennas are positioned near it to cope with the amount of beltpacks operating in the area.
Any changes to beltpack configurations, including roles, channels, and location, can be updated live over the wireless system without any need for the pack to come to operations, or the user to be aware of the update.
“FreeSpeak II provides incredibly clear audio,” stated Anthony Skerman, CMS’s Technical Director. “At Melbourne Arena, there can be 10,000 fans screaming and cheering, but we can still hear and talk. There’s no clicks, pops, or digital distortion. The beltpack’s reception and transmission is completely seamless when they switch between antennas.”
“Basketball at Melbourne Arena is a ‘roll in, roll out’ job under time-pressure in a structure made of steel and concrete; it’s a brilliant test of any wireless comms system,” observed CMS’ s Managing Director Steve Anderson. “FreeSpeak II has totally changed our workflow. The ease it has added to our production work at Melbourne Arena is phenomenal. Using FreeSpeak II de-stresses the whole job, letting our crew keep their focus on the most important thing; our customer.”