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Game of two halves

The World Cup isn't just about football. Tournaments have always helped to launch technologies, such as colour TV. This time around is no different, but it does look as though the chip-enabled ball will miss kick-off.

This column appears in the July 06 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

The technology expected to generate the most interest at the World Cup this year is HDTV (high-definition television). The 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-style format.

Each of the 12 stadiums will be equipped with at least 20 HDTV cameras and connected via dual fibre-optic links to a designated fibre backbone, capable of transporting data at speeds up to 480Gbps (gigabits per second).

Broadband satellite links will be held in reserve to connect the stadiums if anything goes wrong. Data traffic from all of the grounds will flow to the International Broadcasting Centre in Munich, where technicians will process signals for the various TV networks in the world.

More than 3.5 billion people are expected to watch the final in Berlin, according to Lothar Pauly, a board member at Deutsche Telekom and CEO of the group’s IT services subsidiary, T-Systems. "There's tremendous pressure to ensure the HDTV and conventional TV feeds work without a glitch," he says. "If there’s a problem, I can start looking for another job."

Another technology debuting at the tournament is RFID (radio frequency identification). Fifa, which is organising the games, has required that all tickets contain an RFID chip. T-Systems has installed scanners to read the RFID microchips in gates at stadiums in Dortmund and Frankfurt.

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

Fifa has made security a top priority, however. The Allianz Arena is equipped with more than 80 surveillance video cameras, and these, according to Siemens spokesman Harald Prokosch, are so powerful that the police can zoom in and read the match programmes in spectators’ hands.

In addition, hundreds of sensors have been installed at the Munich stadium to monitor gates, windows and doors, and look out for fires. Police, fire and emergency squads at all 12 arenas will use tap-proof digital Tetra (terrestrial trunked radio) phones. In addition to airwave security, the phones are able to block background interference.

The handsets will be equipped with a GPS (global positioning system) transceiver so emergency personnel can be located and directed to wherever they are needed.

But unlike the Asian 2002 World Cup organisers, who provided the photographers with WLAN (wireless local area network) connectivity, the German team plan to offer ethernet cables along the sidelines and in the reserved press section inside each stadium.

WLAN connectivity will be available in press rooms, however.

Another technology to miss the tournament is the chip-enabled ball. In December 2005, Fifa decided that the ball being developed in Germany would not be used for World Cup games. The organisation felt that it wasn’t yet perfect.

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 so that it can survive acceleration and hard kicks, sends a radio signal to the referee’s watch no less than a second after the ball has crossed the goal line.

The ball is currently being tested at the Nuremberg stadium, where 12 antennae collect data transmitted from the chips. These are linked to a high-speed fibre-optic ring, which routes data to a cluster of Linux-based servers.

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