TETRA in the control room of a computer fan fair. One of the world's largest gatherings of computer fans regularly sees 4,500 enthusiasts from Australia, Brazil, United States, Japan, South Africa and beyond descending on a sports arena in Helsinki.
For four days in early August, attendees of the Summer ASSEMBLY event
Despite designated sleeping areas at the Hartwall Arena — better known as an ice hockey and concert venue — many attendees crash on inflatable mattresses in the corridors. Some delegates even manage to sleep at their keyboards: It's clearly an exhausting business being a computer devotee.
And behind the scenes, more than 200 volunteers in a control room backed by a TETRA network make sure this festival runs smoothly.
Although the event may look chaotic, some serious organisation makes sure that everything runs smoothly and securely.
The organiser's control centre, manned day and night, is actually a stadium dressing room. Committed volunteers catch their few winks of sleep on hard benches surrounded by a bustle of activity. The control room even features a shower and sauna — it is Finland, after all!
From this unusual hub, the TETRA radio communication system from Airbus helps keep organisers and volunteers connected. The system comprises a standalone base station and 70 radios, most on loan from Airbus.
Organisers use TETRA's priority scanning capabilities to alert volunteers to changes in the event's network, even when they may have to interrupt lower-priority groups that are talking. For example, whenever a computer leaves the network, staff can pinpoint the location and send someone out to check the situation if necessary.
And the TETRA system keeps communications secure, without the risk of eavesdropping.
Physical security has turned out to be more pressing than cyber-security at this event.
"We build and install the local area network, mainly using equipment on loan from various businesses," said Matti Antila, head of the network crew in 2011.
"Protecting the more than 200 pieces of equipment on loan from sponsors and partners is vital. This very expensive equipment makes up the event's local area communications network and ensuring nothing is stolen or misplaced is our key priority."
The network crew also makes sure no illegal or harmful software finds its way onto the local area network. If the team detects an infected computer, the crew or other experts clean out the potential threat before it affects the network and other users.
The most frequent problem the network crew face: accidental unplugging.
"All such incidents have to be checked," said Antila. "On the setting-up day, visitors are busy connecting their computers, and this is the peak time for hitches to occur. Local area network elements are accidentally switched off as people do the wrong things when trying to plug in their computers."
Once, a couple of visitors weren't sure whether a piece of equipment could be switched off. When Antila showed up almost immediately, he overheard the visitors discussing the consequences of their actions. It was clear they knew that the network was being monitored constantly.
"They were surprised, though, by the speed of our response when I showed up to help them out."