Major League Baseball teams with Qualcomm to Boost Ballpark Wireless Service


MLB, like all major sports, and for that matter any large venue for sports or entertainment, seems to always have a connectivity problem but unlike many others which seem to have patchwork solutions MLB is actively addressing the issue.

The league’s Advanced Media arm (MLBAM) has teamed with wireless equipment developer Qualcomm in a multiyear effort that will first seek to survey the needs of mobile fans and then look at developing a plan to implement the mobile network technology needed to meet those needs.

They are entering a very fast moving space, where it is still hard to predict what the growth and demand will look like. You need only look at some of the numbers that Baseball has provided to see this. Two years ago fans were primarily looking for downstream data flow, that is downloading e-mails checking voicemail.

That has change so that now the primary need is for upstream connectivity, so that twitter, Facebook updates, Instagram photos and a host of other social media needs can be served. Also these types of files are often much larger than the simple text messages downloaded two years earlier. However the growth has been strong for data flowing in both directions, a 50% increase in downstream and a 300% increase in upstream per year over the last two years.

MLB in fact helps create demand for wireless in its parks. It has a range of apps that allow fans to do everything from find images of themselves in the stands as well as post that type of photo to upgrading your seats while at a game.

The range of services now at ballparks range considerably, and even after this effort is over will still have a good deal of variance since it appears that not all teams will be participating.

The deal is a first for Qualcomm in that in the past it has never had a direct relationship with a sports league. Its Engineering Group will provide in-ballpark assessments of select parks and develop a comprehensive plan for wireless access that will include Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G services. The effort is expected to take two years.

It will be interesting to see if the experts can accurately foretell the future and if the installations will meet with future needs. The San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park is continually undergoing enhancements and growing pains as fans mobile usage continues to grow. But at least during the recent World Series it held up, while Comercia Park’s network collapsed under the strain of social commenting at games.

Intel talks about a Wireless Future

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Justin Rattner at IDF 2010

Day Three of the Intel Developers Conference brought about my favorite part of the conference from when I was a regular attendee at the show- the day when the research and development people get to strut their stuff.

Today was no different as Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer took that stage and made this prediction about where things are going in the labs. “In the future, if it computes, it connects.” More importantly he was talking about doing so wirelessly.

There was plenty at the show that was interesting from Rattner, but the two items that stand out here and will help mobile users the most was his showing of a few specific areas that are under development from the company.

The first was an all digital Wi-Fi radio that is integrated into to a chip that has other digital technologies. Calling it a “Moore’s Law Radio” it shows that going forward Intel will be able to scale the chip as it shrinks it process geometry, enabling the company to make more chips at a lower price. In the past when chips featured a mix of analog and digital they did not scale efficiently and so were much more costly to develop and manufacture.

In addition the combination of additional digital technologies on top of the Wi-Fi should mean that developers of tablets and smartphones will be able to create full featured radios that take up less space and use less power, enabling the creation of smaller connected devices.


The second area was on the development of the next generation wireless standard that is called Wireless Gigabit or WiGig, a technology that is gaining traction from a growing number of industry players. It has the ability to deliver as much as 5 gigabits per second. The effort is seeking to consolidate a many of the proprietary 60 GHz developments into one that is accepted as an industry standard.

Intel showed a WiGig docking station that eliminated the needs for most wires and portends a future when we can have devices such as wireless displays and docking stations, easing the clutter on desktops and in offices.

Garmin Connects Athletes with Ant +

Looking at the growing number of fitness devices available there is a thread that is increasingly running through all of them, they feature a low powered wireless technology called Ant + from Ant Wireless, that enables the athletes and others to get real time feedback from sensors such as heart rate monitors.

It is no real surprise that the technology has caught on in the market; it was designed specifically for this use by Dynastream Innovations to provide feedback from its power meters. When Garmin purchased the company in 2006 it took Ant + to a much wider market.

A look at Garmin products shows a strong presence of the technology, but it has also become firmly entrenched as a standard technology in a wide range of products from other developers in the sports market with support from an estimated 25 million devices.

The growing importance of the technology can be seen in one of its most recent partners, Sony Ericsson, which has a family of Ant + enabled phones including two that were announced earlier this month. Both the Xperia S and the Xperia ion will have native support for the wireless technology when they are released later in the first half of 2012.

Using one of these phones, which include a feature that enables the user to be always connected to the Internet a serious athlete can not only check their vital signs but have a remote trainer also get the data and so be in a position to provide important feedback. You can use Ant + with other phones but need a dongle.

At the recent CES show there was a range of fitness developers showing technology in the Ant + booth aside from Garmin. 4iiii, a developer of audio and display feedback systems incorporates it, no real surprise since 4iiii CEO Kip Fyfe was CEO of Dynastream when it developed the technology and sold it to Garmin.

Others in the fitness space that use the technology include Wahoo Fitness, Pioneer, Garmin, Nordic,CardioSport, and Fatigue Science to name a few partners.

Not just for sports
ANT+ has gained widespread adoption as the interoperable standard in ultra low power wireless communication in sports but also as a technology that is gaining ground in medical applications. It was recently adopted by Qualcomm Life’s 2net hub technology that is designed to provide wireless communications between medical devices.

There are other medical users such as Dexcom, a company that develops glucose monitoring systems and A&D Medical which develops wireless blood pressure monitors and other equipment. There are also companies developing games, bridges and hubs and other mobile applications that use the technology.

The technology is a 2.4GHz wireless network protocol and is used in wireless sensor networks that require low cost, low power, small form factor and flexibility such as being able to form ad hoc mesh networks. The devices that feature the technology have a small battery that can provide years of operational life.

It is interesting how well this, a privately developed technology has found acceptance while rival technologies such as ZigBee seemed to have struggle to find a niche, while offering much the same features.