The results are up in the air

Taking scoring to the next level, Intermec handhelds fed information to the Unisys system wirelessly during the Dubai Desert Classic.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  April 8, 2004

In response to demands from television production companies, internet users and spectators for accurate, realtime scoring and statistical information, the organisers of the 2004 Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament implemented a wireless network and scoring system from Unisys and Intermec. As well as feeding statistics to the European Tour web site and television producers, Tour Productions, the system broadcast live information to scoreboards situated around Dubai’s Emirates Golf Course so spectators could follow players’ progress. The solution was faster, less intrusive and more reliable than the wired scoring systems used in previous years. “Wireless scoring systems like this are the way forward,” says Adrian Flaherty, tournament manager and Emirates Golf Club’s director of golf. “Any time you can take the pen and paper element out of golf scoring and have a quicker, faster, more efficient service, then it benefits all,” he adds. In order to gather scoring data quickly and efficiently from around the 18-hole course, Unisys implemented a wireless local area network (WLAN) that spanned the entire club. By equipping scorers with wireless-enabled Intermec handheld computers, the IT team was able to gather up-to-the-minute data and re-distribute it within seconds. “The scoring information comes in from the wireless system, the servers then broadcast it out to the other machines for television and the European Tour web site. Tour Productions uses the data to create scoreboards, leaderboards and individual player statistics and the tour manipulates it so it looks nice on its web site,” explains Mike Bristow, European sports marketing manager for Unisys. Development of the WLAN began in November 2003 when the UK-based golf scoring team from Unisys travelled to Dubai to survey and videotape the course. Once back at base, the team drew up plans to build a totally redundant and reliable network. Arriving three days before the start of the tournament, Unisys staff deployed 13 Intermec 2100 wireless access points (WAPs) around the course which transmitted to three servers at a base station near the clubhouse. The solution, which has been used at golf tournaments around the world, can enable data to make multiple hops between stations. Because there is a chance that the quickest route back to the base station could be blocked, the WAPs were able to automatically reconfigure themselves to find alternative routes, ensuring that the scoring data always found its way back to the base station. Because the tour travels between cold northern climates and some of the hottest countries in the world, Unisys chose to use Intermec 700 handhelds, which are ruggedised and can cope with transportation, dust, heat up to 60Cº and cold to –10 Cº. The computers have a battery lifespan of up to 14 hours, meaning there is no need for battery changes throughout the course of a day’s play. Scorers interface with a programme called Golf III, which was built by Unisys engineers on the PocketPC platform. Because volunteers with little knowledge of golf are often employed as scorers — in this case they were students from Dubai College — the programme has been designed for simplicity and does not allow for the entry of conflicting data. Once entered into the handhelds, the scores update a locally-stored database and transmit the information to the WLAN through an Orinoco wireless card to the base station and other computers. Storing the data on the handhelds as well as the servers has three advantages. Firstly, if the WLAN should fail, the scores are still registered in the system; secondly, if the servers should fail or there is a power supply issue, all the scores are still held on multiple databases around the course, and finally, because scoring enquiries are made locally, bandwidth usage is kept to a minimum. “We used 2Mbits/s wireless but could have gone up to 11Mbits/s, [because the WLAN] is 802.11. We brought it down to 2Mbits/s because that is all it needs. As the scores came in from the handhelds it was just that bit of data that was broadcast to all the machines and their databases were updated from that,” explains Bristow. “We have a very low bandwidth requirement, the system has built-in safety because if there is any loss of connection for whatever reason it is not apparent to the user, the [scorers] can carry on doing enquiries and the machines can keep on running,” he adds. Once back at the base station, the data is entered into the main servers. As no major processing power was needed, the Unisys team used three five-year-old Pentium PCs running Windows 2000. Security of the system is always a major issue because of the high profile of the tour. As a result, Unisys engineers have to be sure adequate security measures are in place on the wireless network side and the internet side. The 2100 can use any standard remote authentication dial-in user service (RADIUS) server for optimum network security, while additional security is provided through wired equivalent privacy (WEP) key management technology. On the back end, the scoring data was fed via an ISDN line to the European Tour web site, and via the wireless network to PCs in the hospitality and press areas. A separate machine running Smoothwall, a Linux firewall, protected the scoring servers from hacking. Three Ethernet cards in the Linux machine controlled the internet access of European Tour staff, enquiries from the Intermec handhelds and information sent to monitors in the hospitality and press lounges. These connections were configured so European Tour staff had unrestricted access to the internet but no access to the scoring database, while those on the Intermec wireless network had read-only access to the scoring database so they could not tamper with results. In addition, the team implemented Symantec’s antivirus and automatic patching to protect against malicious code. “Security is a very important part of the system. This is a high profile event and we have to ensure that the information is as reliable as possible. What we implemented was as much as we could realistically put in place,” says Bristow. Moving forward, Unisys is working with Intermec to add more functionality to the solution. Already, the handhelds are used to send instant messaging across the network and can be configured for voice when more bandwidth becomes available. Also, Unisys is looking into the possibility of providing handheld computers for VIPs attending golf events so they can follow scores as they happen and access statistical information. “As tournament organisers we are always looking at what new technology can do for us, whether it be in the press centre, for television or on the scoring side. These new developments will make a big difference in terms of just preparing the golf course without too much discomfort to the club itself and providing better information to users. We look forward to it growing year on year,” says Flaherty.

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