An internet of bins: Networking Splendour in the Grass

Building a large temporary network in the middle of a remote field for a music festival presents some unique challenges to the Splendour in the Grass organisers.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Bringing Eftpos services, internet connectivity, and broadcast capability to support 30,000 people a day in a field with no power or internet represents a unique challenge to Splendour in the Grass organisers.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Each year, the Splendour in the Grass music festival is held on the north coast of New South Wales, around half an hour outside of Byron Bay, and plays host to 30,000 attendees, as well as bands across three main stages, broadcasters, food stores, bars, and shopping outlets.

Given the field that plays home to Splendour has no power, and no permanent fixed line connection of any kind, the organisers of the festival need to be on site a month in advance to build and prep massive network capable of supporting the event over the three days in July.

The garbage bin hub
Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Michael Kelly-Gleeson, Splendour in the Grass' contract network manager and lead engineer told ZDNet that a small team of organisers began preparing the site in June this year, setting up two microwave backhaul links at the north and south ends of the site, and a total of 90 routers across the entirety of the field.

"Setting up a network in a paddock is a bit challenging," he said.

The festival picked local broadband providers Wires Broadband and Linknet to provide the microwave backhaul links to the site, with one link getting 50Mbps on it, while the other achieved 60Mbps.

The Wi-Fi network had 1,000 users on it simultaneously, with 4,000 users connecting each day, with an average daily download of 2GB in total. The network also supported 250 services including telephones and EFTPOS for the bars, food outlets and shops at the festival, and Kelly-Gleeson said that as of the end of day three of the festival, 1.8TB of data had travelled across the network.

One particular challenge for the festival was the use of Eftpos and Moshtix ticketing for festival attendees who park their cars on the site. The organisation charges a fee to park on the site, and staff and volunteers on site use Commonwealth Bank's Leo iPod Touch terminals to conduct chip and swipe transactions. The iPod Touches are strapped to the staffer's wrists

But the devices have a limited range, and with the car park situated far from the centre of the festival, Kelly-Gleeson said he teamed up with some friends who manufactured garbage bins, and built six remote Wi-Fi hubs that can be wheeled out into the field to connect up to six Moshtix scanners, and two to three Eftpos units.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

The locked bins have three-meter poles with Wi-Fi network gear attached, and are empty inside save for the network gear and generators built in to allow up to six days of powering. The hollow interior means that in the case that the bins fill up with water, the equipment can continue to operate.

As of the last day of the festival, Kelly-Gleeson said that while some of the units were almost out of battery, they had all operated without fail.

Kelly-Gleeson said he would seek to use the units for other festivals in the future, particularly the Falls Festival later this year.

He also said he was looking for ways to improve the festival experience in general. The network already supports a dedicated link for Triple J to broadcast audio from the shows to its radio audience, but Kelly-Gleeson said he was considering looking for a way to use multi-casting to allow festival go-ers to stream video of bands playing on any stage in the festival to their mobile devices, but he admitted it would likely be a few years away.

While Kelly-Gleeson is a local to the area working for Netevent, he said often the festival faces difficulties finding people with the right IT skills to work for the festival to allow the festival.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet
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