Communication Infrastructure


This page is the latest addition to the series of articles written up under the banner of Church Worship Technology. Whilst it is grouped with the other variations of infrastructure, this article is strictly NOT focused on delivery of worship services and technology enablement. It instead evolves the boundaries of the series to discuss general IT & communication needs of Clayton Church.

Shortly after Easter 2014, the church held our Discipleship Conference Multiple, where we pushed the technological boundaries by introducing video live streaming, using the service Livestream. On the first evening’s session, a number of technical challenges arose, which is what led ultimately to this article.

Wired Ethernet Network

The wiring of the church building was done to support two distinct networks. The Audio Infrastructure article starts with some of this insight – in the Backstage opening paragraph. The first network is for the exclusive use of the audio & visual needs, and the heart of this network is the Chapel backstage Cisco SG200-26 26-port gigabit smart switch. Use of CAT6 ethernet cabling ensures the fastest speeds are available for the audio signals generated by the live instruments, through the combo of Allen & Heath iLive T-114 sound desk/mixer and ‘brain’ iDR-48 mix rack. This same CAT6 is even more important for channeling the video signal generated by the computers/video camera located at the sound desk through to the various projector & television output devices, as detailed in Video Infrastructure.

The second network is predominantly focused on the offices located upstairs, with the server rack forming the heart and brain in the Utilities room. It is this hub where the data servers, firewall and ADSL internet connection are all located. Throughout the entire building, the cabling from wall plate network ports back to the switches/racks form two entangled spider webs. This is because venues outside of the main Chapel may have the need for both data, audio and video connectivity. Indeed, the distributed video signalling for the projectors and displays outside the chapel all are directed from the sound desk direct to the upstairs switch and patch panel. This design also for complete flexibility in rerouting the required signalling to other points within the building. As an example, when the Fold-back (lyrics) projector was under maintenance for a period of a month, connectivity was added to the two racks so that a LCD monitor could be mounted from the upstairs office window and produce a temporary smaller display for lyric fold-back and speaker slide feedback.

Since the building has been commissioned for service, the telephone network has consisted of 5 copper-wired lines bundled with the ADSL 2+ service provided by Telstra. As the electricity and phone lines were terminated to the building via underground cable ducts, no HFC was wired into the building termination point to allow for the possibility of cable broadband solutions in the future. According to the public internet compatibility checks (Telstra, Optus, Whirlpool), whilst the current address and premise may not be eligible for a cable broadband service, this can easily be rectified by having an overhead connection point wired. The HFC cabling required as part of this installation would need to extend up to the upstairs utilities room so that the cable modem can easily be integrated and supplement the existing ADSL2+ modem.

One of the opportunities of the internal ethernet wiring throughout the building that can be explored in the future is conversion of the copper/physical-based telephone system to a VOIP solution and thus further leverage all the existing data ports available. Should this VOIP future arrive before NBN implementation, it should help to make the transition easier. As I understand it, given the new multi-technology implementation approach for NBN, it makes more sense to pursue an interim cable broadband solution since it will take quite a number of years before NBN rolls out fibre to the neighbourhood. The likelihood of NBN delivering a pure-fibre solution is quite high given Clayton Church is strategically located, near shops and opposite an apartment block dwelling. NBNCo would likely pursue a FTTB (fibre to the basement) approach for the apartment block opposite, so the church building could be lucky enough to get an equivalent of FTTN (fibre to the node) implementation!

Wireless Networks

As mentioned in the Video Infrastructure update of July 2014, the worship-based wireless network, which supports its functional equivalent wired network, has been slightly redesigned to incorporate a wireless extender, located upstairs alongside the main wireless access point for the office wireless network. Since day #1, the two office and AV wireless networks have coexisted quite nicely.

One potential end-state hypothesised in the expansion of Apple TV devices into the AV network was the creation of room-based wireless networks, which would support an isolated/independent implementation for each venue, whereby each room/projection system could operate separate from the rest, with maximum wireless signal throughput. However, this design would create up to 5 different wireless networks all existing side by side within the church. It has been researched in recent years that if a neighbourhood got too busy with competing wireless networks, the potential for competing frequencies would reduce the overall effectiveness of each individual wireless network. Indeed, without even implementing that hypothetical network design, from the cafe corner of the church, a scan of available wireless networks reveals just how many wireless networks already exist outside of the church – this phenomenon exacerbated by the presence of the residential apartment block opposite. Whilst there are tips and tricks to reducing the competitive nature of multiple wireless networks, if there were opportunities to avoid creating them in the first place – then we would be better off.

The office wireless network exists so that staff can use their laptops around the building, and have access to the centralised infrastructure – internet access, the data server and printer.

Software & Applications

So far the focus has been very much on physical infrastructure to support communications. Communications, as the transfer for meaningful information, requires an underlying framework for achieving all parties are able to generate and receive the information. ProPresenter is discussed specifically as the software tool behind the operation of a Sunday service, controlling the management of song lyrics, video announcements and sermon material.

Email communication and use of software varies depending on the devices used by church staff. Whilst no formal IT policy exists (that I’m aware of), the staff operate in a flexible work environment where BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is embraced:

  • PCs operate on Windows 7, and individuals will use any one of Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail
  • MacBook (Pros or Airs), with Apple Mail serving as the email client
  • Smartphones (Android or iPhones), also are configured with their respective mail apps, allowing most staff 24×7 access to email.

Over the period of May 2014, I investigated and tested out a not-for-profit license of Microsoft Office365, which not only includes the standard Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook applications, but also a basic enterprise offering of Exchange, Lync/Office Communicator and SharePoint. These later three would all be brand new capabilities unfamiliar to the church staff unless they have worked in the corporate world in the last few years.

Microsoft Exchange offers the opportunity for the email system to move to the next level of sophistication. Key benefits would be sharing of calendars between staff, and tighter email integration on smartphones. This second benefit means that sending an email on one device (i.e. smartphone) will synchronise it and ensure that sent email is available on another device (Macbook/PC). It means having one centralised email system. Calendars can be maintained for room bookings and distribution lists could be defined for the various teams.

Lync/Office Communicator is a very common tool used and taken for granted in corporate work environments. Adoption and use of this within the church office environment would undoubtedly lead to instant chat sessions to accelerate the communication flow between offices. I can see how this would greatly enhance communication during the week, when staff can easily be in communication between the various office locations spread across upstairs, downstairs in the cafe, at the reception desk, or in one of the big rooms, chapel or backstage where the worship team and director resides.

SharePoint is the final third distinct application provided in the Office365 bundle – a simple online instance/implementation instead of a full-blown dedicated server installation. It is at this point where these software applications and online services intersects with the church enterprise management software tool – known as Church Community Builder (CCB). SharePoint is a content management and workflow tool, also commonly found throughout corporate work environments. Typically, SharePoint is the underlying technology behind corporate intranets. The amount of resource, time and effort invested in technology like SharePoint, as well as commentary on CCB will be explored separate to this page. For the purposes of this discussion, I will stop at the simple point of observation that Office365 offers use of SharePoint, and greater pursuit/use of it will create overlaps with CCB.

As part of the early days implementing and rolling out ProPresenter to my church, I had explored the use of the online tool Planning Center Online (PCO). At the time, after an initial trial period, it was decided not to pursue further use of it. Instead, the worship team communicate weekly via email.

Website, Online & Social Media

The Clayton Church website is delivered and managed by WordPress, hosted by local provider Digital Pacific, with the domain registered with NetRegistry (as a result of various merges and acquisitions over the years). As is common with many website/domains today, Digital Pacific use cPanel as their web host management tool, and via cPanel, the various email accounts are managed as POP3/IMAP mailboxes.

Social Media also features in the way we communicate at church. Facebook Groups are the primary communication channels. The main church community can unite via the main church-wide group Clayton Church of Christ Community, where members can post pictures and discuss current topics. Additionally, a whole raft of ministry-specific closed groups exist to help bring together people online. Officially, the church has a Facebook Page, which on recent investigation, had been inadvertently merged with the Church of Christ Oakleigh page…

WhatsApp provides 100s of us with real-time instant messaging, where countless chat groups are created, managed for various topics. WhatsApp is generally not used for official communication purposes, and is probably understood as a personal/individual means of communicating. WhatsApp is highly effective with their chat groups for day-to-day communication within cell groups.

A YouTube channel has recently had its first video upload as part of our recent change in the way we present announcements. Originally, for many years, a physical bulletin called the News & Views, was printed, folded and handed out to people who arrived at church for a Sunday service. This practice had served the church for several decades and I have a collection of them from the 1990s and 2000s, up until the time when it was decided to discontinue them as a physical weekly bulletin. An electronic substitute was introduced and Clayton News was delivered has been ever since distributed via the online MailChimp email service. In June 2014, the Sunday celebration service order was changed such that the video announcements were played as a pre-service transition into the main service start and worship bracket. To further ensure consistency, as of July 2014, the video announcement clip has been uploaded to the church’s YouTube channel, with a link provided in the MailChimp email.

Other forms and channels of social media have yet to be adopted, such as Twitter, whereas Instagram has featured and was partially utilised for Easter 2014 to create a feature motion background video during worship.

As a whole, the church community has a broad spectrum of people with differing levels of technology savvy-ness. The younger generation embrace and have technology infused in their daily lives whereas the older generation are likely to be more cautious and less familiar with some of the technology. Communicating to the church family thus requires careful consideration of these different levels of understanding and knowledge. This topic will resurface and be documented as part of the dedicated article on CCB as the work-in-progress implementation and rollout of it continues.

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