World Cup sparks new technology

Some new technologies will be used at the World Cup soccer games in Germany, although the chip-enabled soccer ball will miss the kickoff.

World Cup soccer tournaments have traditionally been used to help launch new technologies, such as color television and wireless communications. This year's event in Germany is no exception -- even if a couple of promising technologies such as a chip-enabled soccer ball and broadcast mobile TV will miss the kickoff.

"We'll be using a few technologies for the first time at the games, in addition to managing some huge, complex IT systems," said Lothar Pauly, a board member of Deutsche Telekom and chief executive officer (CEO) of the group's IT services subsidiary, T-Systems International. The games start on June 9.

Arguably the technology expected to generate the most interest at the games this year is HDTV (high-definition television). The new TV system, which has taken more than a decade to leave the lab and enter the market, features razor-sharp, high-resolution picture quality in a 16:9 movie-like format.

Each of the 12 stadiums in Germany will be equipped with at least 20 HDTV cameras and connected via dual fiber optic links to a designated fiber backbone capable of transporting data at speeds up to 480G bps (bits per second). Broadband satellite links will be held in reserve to connect the stadiums if anything should happen to the fiber connections.

Data traffic from all stadiums will flow to the International Broadcasting Center in Munich, where technicians will process signals for the various broadcasting systems in the world. The signals will be fed into T-Systems' global broadband network. Some will also be sent via satellite using operators such as SES Astra SA.

More than 3.5 billion people are expected to watch the final game in Berlin, according to Pauly. "Believe me, there's tremendous pressure to ensure that the HDTV and conventional TV feeds work without a glitch," he said. "If there's a problem, I can start looking for another job."

Pauly joined Deutsche Telekom last year after working his way up to CEO of Siemens AG's communications division.

Another technology debuting at the tournament is RFID (radio frequency identification). The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which is organizing the games, has required that all tickets contain an RFID chip. T-Systems has installed electronic scanners to read the RFID chips in gates at the stadiums in Dortmund and Frankfurt. Siemens AG has deployed similar technology at a number of the other stadiums, including the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Scanning devices are located throughout the stadiums to grant spectators access to authorized seating and refreshment areas. The technology, however, could also be used to track people, especially suspected hooligans, but no tracking is planned, according to Andreas Schwarzkopf, project manager for the World Cup games at T-Systems.

FIFA has made security a top priority. The Allianz Arena, for instance, is equipped with more than 80 surveillance video cameras, which, according to Siemens spokesman Harald Prokosch, are so powerful that police can zoom in and read game programs in spectator's hands. In addition, hundreds of sensors have been installed at the Munich stadium to monitor gates, windows and doors as well as fires.

Police, fire and emergency squads at all 12 stadiums will use tap-proof digital terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) phones. In addition to airwave security, the phones are able to block background interference, which is an issue at soccer games, so that users can easily understand each other. The handsets will also be equipped with a GPS (Global Positioning System) transceiver so that emergency personnel can be located and directed to wherever they are needed.

T-Systems, which is installing the TETRA networks, will provide capacity for up to 2,000 users per stadium.

Despite promoting the use of several advanced technologies, T-Systems has chosen to play it safe with a few others. Unlike the Asian 2002 World Cup organizers who broke new ground by providing photographers with WLAN (wireless LAN) connectivity to transmit their pictures from the field, the German organizers plan instead to offer Ethernet cables along the sidelines and in the reserved press section inside each stadium .

"We've decided to take no risks," said Schwarzkopf. "We need to guarantee bandwidth to these users and believe cable is the best way to do so."

WLAN connectivity will be available in the press rooms, in addition to Ethernet connections.

Another wireless technology that won't see much play during the games is broadcast mobile TV, which allows mobile phones with special antennas to receive regular TV broadcast signals. The mobile phone industry had hoped use the tournament in Germany to promote the new service, but Pauly said in an interview that "the time axis isn't right."

Pauly said several issues must be resolved before a broadcast mobile TV service can be launched commercially in Germany, and these will require time. "We expect to see some pilot tests during the games, but no commercial service," he said.

Another technology to miss the tournament: the chip-enabled soccer ball. In December, after several months of testing the high-tech ball, FIFA decided that the new chip-enabled soccer ball being developed in Germany would not be used for the tournament games, saying the technology wasn't yet perfect.

Adidas-Salomon, the Fraunhofer Institute and software company Cairos Technologies are jointly developing the chip-enabled ball.

The technology is based on an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) chip with an integrated transmitter to send data. The chip, suspended in the middle of the ball to survive acceleration and hard kicks, sends a radio signal to the referee's watch in less than a second of the ball crossing the goal line. Similar chips, but smaller and flatter, have also been designed to insert into players' shin guards.

The chip-enabled ball system is currently being tested at the Nuremberg stadium, where 12 antennas in light masts and other locations around the arena collect data transmitted from the chips. The antennas are linked to a high-speed fiber optic ring, which routes data to a cluster of Linux-based servers.

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John Blau

IDG News Service
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