Armchair Quarterbacks Go Wireless at 3Com Park

It may just be the best of both worlds: the excitement and electricity of attending a football game with thousands of other rabid fans, coupled with the convenience of instant replays and updated scores from around the league.

At 3Com Park, home field of the San Francisco 49ers, Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com Corp. is creating a wireless network to deliver just such a spectator experience. The idea was sparked at negotiations earlier this year over extending the name rights to 3Com Park -- formerly Candlestick Park.

"There was new ownership with the 49ers," says David Katz, vice president of strategic alliances at 3Com. "And [new owner John York is] located here in Silicon Valley, so he's thinking, 'How do I really reach out to the Silicon Valley community and make the in-game experience much more exciting and attractive to that community?' "As an extension of their stadium-name relationship, the 49ers have given 3Com access to the stadium to develop a wireless network. Using 3Com AirConnect devices, 3Com is installing at the stadium a wireless network based on 802.11b wireless LAN technology. MarchFirst Inc., a 3Com partner and professional services company, is developing the applications that will run over the network.

At first, fans will be able to access stats from the 49ers game they are watching, scores and stats from other NFL games and other sporting events, and general news. In addition, they will be able to send e-mail and instant messages to friends who are at the game or on the Internet.

MarchFirst will then leverage the bandwidth of the 802.11b network to add streaming media features such as instant replays both of the live game and other games around the NFL. There will also be the release of commerce applications so that fans can order food and merchandise from their seats and have it delivered to them.

Katz believes this is just beginning.

"Over time, we'll find out what people think are the most exciting kinds of applications," he says. "There could be an opportunity later for advertising and commerce related to things outside the park. It may be that people at halftime want to do their shopping at the grocery store."

The initial group of 150 Hitachi ePlate devices were placed in the 3Com Park luxury suites, VIP box, and press box during the 49ers' first few home games. Over the course of the season, the wireless devices will be deployed to about one-third of the park's approximately 70,000 seats, with expansion through the 2001 season. Eventually, fans will be able to use their own 802.11b devices to access the stadium network.

While 3Com handles the technological aspects of the project, the 49ers are monitoring fan reaction and fielding calls from other teams interested in setting up wireless networks.

"We've had a wonderful fan response. It's something people like to participate in -- everyone wants to be an armchair quarterback ... this is a technology and a football team that are going to give fans that opportunity," says Sam Singer, a spokesman for the 49ers. "Instead of standing up and yelling 'Here's what you oughta do,' you'll be able to do it on your PDA and say 'Look. I made the call.' "

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