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Photos: Millennium Dome gets a makeover

Now known as 'The O2', the London landmark will provide music-lovers with a full multimedia experience on their mobile device when it opens on Sunday
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1 of 5 David Meyer/ZDNet

On Wednesday ZDNet.co.uk was invited to see "The O2" — the enormous tent-like structure that used to be known as the Millennium Dome. A collaborative venture between the mobile operator and the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the site has been converted from a much-maligned marker of the new millennium to a bright new entertainment complex boasting two concert venues (one club-sized, the other London's largest purpose-built indoor arena), 11 cinema screens, two ice rinks, an "exhibition bubble" and a lot of shops and cafés.

The O2 will, in the organisers' words, "soft-launch" on Sunday with a concert featuring rockers Bon Jovi. The venue has not been officially opened yet, but O2 claims to have already sold 1.2 million tickets for upcoming events.

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2 of 5 David Meyer/ZDNet

Japanese technology firm NEC has provided the network infrastructure for the whole building. Pictured here is one of the four communications rooms that keep everything running smoothly. The equipment is based on NEC Philips telephony systems and Cisco switches. The complex contains 15,000km of category-5 cable for the LAN alone, as well as about 100km of fibre.

All the venues and shops within the complex rely on a total of 72 servers, located in three server rooms. NEC claims there is a one-minute failover between each server room. Two of these rooms are located on the premises and the third is based externally. Each room contains a storage unit of about 24TB, which can be upgraded to 75TB.

Because the complex contains a lot of concrete and steel, there are around 400 wireless access points (based on 802.11b/g technology) dotted around the building for VoIP and general connectivity, with 100 in the arena alone.

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3 of 5 David Meyer/ZDNet

O2 is trying to offer its customers a new entertainment experience in the complex, and it has a detailed plan for how its subscribers will be able to book and enjoy their experience here.

Based on an opt-in system, the operator will text the customer with offers to pre-buy tickets for events at The O2, before they go on general sale. The customer texts back to confirm and receives a code which allows him or her fast-track access into the complex on the night. If the customer has O2's new Cocoon music phone, he or she will then be able to send another text to receive a bar code allowing them entry into the "blueroom bar", a VIP lounge of sorts. The customer will then be able to send texts to choose what music is being played in the bar and even what pictures are being displayed on the wall.

Once the customer has consumed a few drinks, he or she can gather their friends and go the O2 Create unit, where they will be able to have themselves superimposed into a popular music video, the result of which will then be sent to their phone and email address. After that, they can even go to watch the concert, after which selected photographs of the event will be emailed to them.

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4 of 5 David Meyer/ZDNet

One of The O2's 11 cinema screens is a 22m-wide behemoth boasting a resolution of 2048x1020 pixels. NEC claims that this is the UK's first custom-built digital cinema screen, and all the screens in The O2's Vue cinema complex are digital-ready. The screens could even be used to show concerts happening in the adjacent arena if demand is high enough.

NEC was keen to show off its NC2500 projector, which it claims is the world's brightest cinema projector and particularly suited to a resurgence of 3D cinema, should that occur. This equipment has already been put to use in the Odeon cinema complex in Hatfield, although that was converted rather than purpose-built.

One of the advantages of digital cinema — at least for the content industry — is the fact that films can be watermarked. Although these markings are invisible to someone sitting in the cinema, those trying to furtively use a camcorder for piracy purposes could find their images spoiled by a blank square in the middle of the picture, or the time and date of the showing permanently emblazoned across the screen.

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5 of 5 David Meyer/ZDNet

On any given day, there will be approximately 2,500 staff working in The O2. NEC has installed an RFID infrastructure across the complex, which will track the movements of staff, caterers and contractors and allow swift clocking in and out using smartcards.

This functionality will also be extended to a member loyalty system, which will involve members of The O2, such as corporate box-holders, using "prestigious" smartcards rather than paper tickets. The smartcard-based ticketing system will be linked to The O2's online booking infrastructure.

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