Simac and Antwerp City Hall: modern technology in a historical heritage

03 May 2021

When the renovation works at the Antwerp City Hall will be completed by the end of this year, this magnificent historic building will be equipped with the most modern structured cabling. Although the data cabling is virtually invisible, it nevertheless plays a crucial role in the functioning of the city’s administration.

The cabling works at the Antwerp City Hall are a key part of the 10-year framework agreement that Digipolis concluded with the Cabling & Infrastructure department of Simac, back in 2019. With that framework contract, Digipolis extended a partnership that is now entering its fourteenth year.

Accessibility to data is important for a modern local authority. Employees and visitors have a right to flawless connectivity. When the city council is accessible to the citizen via a live stream from the Council Hall, then this should happen without a hitch. In addition, real-time access to digital data is paramount for decision-makers, in support of their policies. Future-oriented data cabling is therefore a vital constituent in the restoration of the Town Hall.

"Installing the cabling in the restored Antwerp City Hall was no easy task", says Philippe Dekoninck, project manager for the local IT infrastructure team at Digipolis. "This is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and during the restoration we had to merge the historical perspective of the building with new technology." Due to continual additions, moves and changes in recent years, the cabling had become quite a jumble, and was seriously outdated in part. Thanks to a thorough preparation leading up to the restoration, it was possible to start from a clean slate. "All trades, including heating and electricity, were carefully dismantled from the building. An engineering firm reconsidered everything with an open mind. This meant that data rooms were positioned elsewhere but, also, that unused chimneys could be transformed into vertical risers, thus allowing the cabling to be distributed discreetly throughout the building," said Dekoninck.

The historical context imposed certain demands. In some cases, the color of a patch cable had to be adapted, for it to stand out as little as possible. Wi-Fi access points were painted where needed, thus becoming less conspicuously part of the historic ceiling. "The cabling and the active equipment must be as invisible as possible, Dekoninck admitted."

The timing of the works was also important, with constant consultation between contractor Monument Vandekerckhove, the electrician and Simac. "This is a big renovation effort, so it requires a lot of flexibility from everyone," said Dekoninck. This led for example, to Simac equipping a data room in the basement, while archaeologists were still conducting research with brushes and chisels.

Simac was charged with the local network in the Town Hall, both fixed data cabling and Wi-Fi, the direct connections for Telenet and the indoor amplification of GSM signals. Additionally, the cabling for the camera network and all possible cabling for audio and video were in scope.  Simac designed and fitted out the data rooms, such as those for MANAP, the proprietary fiber optic network of the Antwerp city services, police, fire brigade and hospitals.

The framework contract not only defines the collaboration with Simac for all data cabling, but also defines specifications of the cabling itself, in particular the CommScope material. "Both for the services and the cables themselves, we invariably opt for mandatory subcontracting," said Dekoninck. "In this way, we are sure of an impeccable service and use of the right materials." The new cabling is future-proof and takes future evolutions into account. "For example, we have already provided double cabling to the access points. After all, the trend is that access points are fitted with multiple connectors to increase throughput. And, with CommScope, we chose top-notch cables."

Philippe Dekoninck is very satisfied with the collaboration with Simac. "Of all our suppliers, Simac is rated in the best quadrant. The cooperation goes very smoothly. We have dedicated contact points, which is very useful. They are collaborative and mindful when it comes to finding solutions to technical challenges. Because there is little staff turnover at Simac, building a long-term relationship with them is easy.  We have learned to depend on their strengths. In addition to stability, they provide the flexibility we need."

"The Antwerp City Hall is a prestigious project for the city, as it is for us," says Andy Vanbrabant, Director of Simac's Cabling & Infrastructure department. "Data cabling plays a key role in the entire ICT infrastructure, also at local authorities. Having worked with Digipolis for 14 years now, that clearly shows their confidence in the quality of our services. We take pride in that, day in, day out."