Wireless LAN makes World Cup debut

When Ireland scored three goals against Saudi Arabia here on Tuesday night to secure its place in the final 16 of the World Cup, photos of the goals were sent from the sidelines of the pitch and were on their way to newsdesks of papers and Web sites the world over as the game was still being played.

The fast image transmission was made possible by a wireless LAN system, used for the first time at a World Cup. Using digital cameras, press photographers can send images from their seats at the edge of the pitch across the network and back to their offices in record time, meaning fans the world over get to see them on Web sites and newspaper special editions right after the game.

The network at Yokohama Stadium is duplicated at the other 19 stadia in South Korea and Japan hosting World Cup games and also at the International Media Centers in Seoul and Yokohama. It is being provided by Avaya Inc., an official sponsor of both the current tournament, the Women's World Cup in China in 2003, and the next World Cup in Germany in 2006.

Working with Photostream International Pty. Ltd., a McKinnon, Australia, company that specializes in providing wireless LAN service to journalists at sporting events, Avaya has installed a single access point to cover the area inside each stadium and has around 10 at each of the media centers. Photostream has used such systems at international sporting events in Australia and says photographers like the speed with which they can get images back to their offices, thus increasing the chance of having their picture on the front page of the next day's newspaper.

"It's what (photographers) live for," said Jeff Holloway, director of Photostream. "They watch the entire event through their lens and never take their eyes off the back of their camera."

To minimize interference, tournament organizer Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has clamped down on the use of radio transmitting devices at World Cup stadia. No other organizations are allowed to set up their own wireless LAN networks and other spectrum users, such as broadcasters, must get approval for any transmitting device in use, with the exception of cellular telephones.

Any journalist using a notebook PC with a wireless LAN card must have a permit, in the form of a small red plastic badge, to show the system is approved. If not, they risk facing the wrath of the FIFA "bandwidth police," as the organization's wireless LAN compliance enforcers have become known around the stadia.

An unapproved card will probably not get the user very far, anyway. Public wireless LAN networks are not available in the areas around the stadia and the World Cup system is employing a proprietary 128-bit encryption system developed by Avaya, which means most wireless LAN cards won't work. To use the system, journalists and photographers need an Avaya wireless LAN card and also need to get registered so the system's RADIUS-based authentication system will let them onto the network. Avaya is selling or renting its cards along with airtime, which costs ¥127,000 (US$1,010) for the entire month or ¥10,000 (US$80) per day.

Compare this to consumer services, such as NTT Communications Corp.'s new 36M bps wireless LAN network in Tokyo which costs ¥1,600 per month for unlimited access, and the World Cup service looks very expensive.

However, Avaya contends that when compared to the cost of dialling back to newsroom computers via telephone cards, possible delays caused by queuing for one of the 80 telephones serving 2,000 journalists in the International Media Center, and the value to the media organization for having the picture on time, the wireless LAN service is priced reasonably.

Avaya is looking at using wireless LAN even more extensively at the Women's championship next year and the 2006 tournament in Germany, said Doug Gardner, regional marketing director for Avaya's World Cup program.

"By that time, almost everything will be wireless," he said.

Armed with experience from the World Cup, Avaya is also looking at developing a business around such special-events linked wireless LAN networks, said Gardner.