Wireless at the FIFA World Cup

By Gerry Blackwell

June 18, 2002

How does a photo from a World Cup match get on the Internet only minutes after it was taken? It's thanks to the Wi-Fi network installed for journalists and executives at game and media sites throught Japan and Korea.

When the U.S. national team beat favored Portugal 3-2 in elimination round play at the FIFA World Cup on June 5, U.S. fans and players were naturally ecstatic.

The players, no less than their fans, wanted the euphoria to last. So back at the team hotel in Seoul, Korea, many logged on to the Net to relive the glory through pictures, video clips and stories posted at soccer sites, including the official FIFA site.

The scene at a post-game reception in one of the hotel's conference rooms, with players bent over their laptops, was a testament to the power of Wi-Fi wireless networking, says Doug Gardner, director of Avaya Inc.'s World Cup program.

Thanks to a five-year, $100-million sponsorship deal between FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and Avaya, which also sponsors the U.S. team, the Seoul hotel was "unwired" for high-speed Internet access using Avaya's Wi-Fi equipment.

More importantly, Avaya provides Wi-Fi Internet access in the enormous World Cup media centers in Seoul and Tokyo, Japan, and at all ten stadiums in Japan. (Due to a dispute with the Korean PTT, Avaya could not provide wireless access at the Korean stadiums.)

For the matches in Japan, not only can players see pictures of their exploits on the Net right after the game, fans around the world can see pictures within minutes of the action taking place.

Avaya installed six to eight access points in each of the Japanese stadiums to provide high-speed Internet access near the pitch (the playing field) for 200 or so accredited photo journalists. Altogether, there are 15,000 print, radio, TV and Web journalists accredited for the event, but most don't get near the pitch.

"The main benefit," says Gerard Gouillou, head of IT and Internet services for FIFA, "is that there is no more being hooked to a wire. If you want to share something, you just take out your laptop and send it."

The decision to deploy the wireless network came out of discussions Gardner had with the FIFA organizing committee in Japan a year ago.

"The organizers recognized they had a problem, which was how to get photos quickly onto the Internet," Gardner says. "You want to be able to put pictures up within a few minutes of somebody scoring a goal or something dramatic happening on the field."

Time is also of the essence, of course, for print publications with production deadlines that often can't wait for games to end.

"Really, the thing driving this was getting pictures onto the Internet," Gardner says. Soccer is a visual sport, and most sites devoted to it maintain large, continually updated galleries of images, he notes.

The Avaya wireless access point networks at each stadium and the top-of-the-line Gold client cards distributed to the photo journalists make it possible for them to work at Internet speed.

In past World Cups, photographers used conventional cameras. If they wanted to quickly get a picture on to the Net or to a newspaper, they had to take the film out of the camera and hand it to an assistant. The assistant took it to the media center, developed it, scanned it and then used an Internet connection there to e-mail the picture.

Most World Cup photo journalists this year are using digital cameras. When they capture an image they want to post to the Net or to their publication, they take the camera's flash memory card out and hand it to the assistant. The assistant pops it into a laptop and transmits the picture, right from the pitch.

In many cases, Gardner says, photos are posted to the Web within five minutes of the action occurring.

Meanwhile, writers use Wi-Fi Net connections in the downtown media centers. These are huge facilities with seats for over 2,500 journalists.

There are 200 DSL connections available in each, but when the centers start to fill up with journalists during the quarter-final and semi-final rounds, that won't be enough, Gardner says. The DSL connections were too expensive to justify buying any more, though.

Journalists will be given the option of buying an Avaya wireless Wi-Fi card (at cost) and using the wireless access network as an alternative to cooling their heels waiting for a DSL port. They'll be able to get wireless access from any seat in the center.

Avaya is also providing Wi-Fi access systems in some of the World Cup hotels, including the apartment hotels where FIFA executives are staying in Seoul and Tokyo. Gouillou says the wireless connections have made a real difference, allowing him to stay connected and work from his apartment.

The executives, mostly based in Europe, are away from home for a long time during the World Cup so they often bring their spouses. Without the Wi-Fi connection, his wife would be spending a lot of time on her own, Gouillou says.

"I would be working by myself somewhere and she would be watching TV in the apartment. Now I can sit close to her and I can continue to work. It has changed everything. It's a great quality of life improvement."

Under the FIFA/Avaya sponsorship deal, which involves payments in cash, equipment and services, Avaya is providing all the wired computer networking and telephony for the event, as well as the Wi-Fi networks.

FIFA selected Avaya because it wanted a company that could fulfill all its World Cup communications needs. "There are not many out there that are able to do that," Gouillou notes.

"They were a good choice because they're providing us with all the hardware, knowledge, skill and support we needed, and they're putting their heart and soul into it. They're doing whatever it takes, and that's what you want."

Avaya, for its part, is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart. The wireless part of the project, for example, is a vital marketing tool.

"This is a significant new opportunity for us," says Gardner. "We have a number of business partners -- one in the UK, one in Australia -- that have built whole businesses around wireless access for sporting events and other large events like conventions." Avaya itself is marketing the idea to major organizations and events in North America and elsewhere.

"It's a great idea particularly as we move into 802.11a equipment and have much larger bandwidth," Gardner notes. "Unfortunately, 802.11a hit the marketplace a bit late for the World Cup. But we're working on a number of other opportunities."

One is with the NBA. Avaya is in negotiations with the league now.

"I can see in the future that journalists will expect this as a matter of course," Gardner says.

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