Technology will be more integral to the World Cup than ever before, connecting fans, organisers and even dissenters in Brazil
After four years of waiting, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil will finally kick off tonight as the host nation takes to the field to play Croatia in Sao Paulo.
The South American country has been planning for even longer, having been awarded the rights to host the tournament seven years ago, and as preparations are continuing until the last minute, technology will play an important role for broadcasters, organisers and spectators.
On the pitch, goal line technology will make its World Cup debut this year, while off the field, digital devices will keep spectators in the stadium and at home informed and entertained, through streaming, social media and applications.
This desire to share pictures, messages and videos with friends and family back home will place a huge strain on mobile networks not designed to cater for tens of thousands of people located in a single place.
‘Mobile first’ stadiums
Avaya built the networks for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and although it is not involved this time, it says organisers will witness similar trends to what it spotted when constructing the infrastructure for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, including the transition to mobile.
“Vancouver was Ethernet but at Sochi wireless traffic outstripped fixed and it will be the same for [the World Cup],” Garry Veale, president of Europe at Avaya, told TechWeekEurope. “In 2009, less than five percent of the world owned smartphones, it’s now 22 percent. You can see where the demand is coming from for Wi-Fi and you can add on top the significant growth of tablets.”
Since 2010, an increasing number of football stadiums have deployed Wi-Fi networks to help fans communicate. Huawei has fitted wireless networks at the grounds of Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg in Germany and Ajax in the Netherlands, while Wembley recently agreed a partnership with EE to become the “world’s most connected stadium.” In the US, the presence of Wi-Fi in sports arenas has been common for some time.
A number of World Cup venues are equipped with wireless technology, including the 71,000-capacity Estádio Nacional de Brasília and the Arena Octávio Mangabeira, a 50,433-seat stadium located in Salvador, both of which are powered by equipment from Ruckus Wireless and operated by Comba Telecom.
App traffic growth
According to Cisco, the Internet traffic generated by 60,000 people in a stadium and travelling to games is likely to surpass the average peak traffic from all 94 million smartphones in Brazil. Social media will also witness a huge surge, with Adobe predicting that the World Cup will be the most social sporting event ever, surpassing the Superbowl and even the Olympics in terms of mentions.
FIFA’s official mobile application is also likely to be popular. The app features news, photos, videos and real time voting for the Man of the Match award and football’s world governing body says it has received more than two billion hits across its web, mobile and social platforms even before the ball has been kicked.
Traffic will intensify over the course of the tournament and although tests from Compuware show that the page load time for the desktop site have more than halved since South Africa 2010, the mobile version is significantly slower – even on Wi-Fi – while the total page size has doubled since the last World Cup.
This mount of traffic makes a fast connection even more critical, but it’s not just tournament information, Twitter and Facebook that will attract football fans to their mobile device. Many will rely on their smartphones for transportation information and navigation – given the potential language barrier for the expected 3.7 million visitors to Brazil this summer.
Nokia’s HERE Maps has expanded to include accurate maps of the 12 host cities and nearly 100 other cities in the region, along with points of interest, full public transit information for two cities, 3D Maps for major stadiums and indoor maps for seven major airports.
HERE has also adapted its mapping to ensure tourists avoid high-crime areas, and it even covers the streets of Brazil’s favelas – areas which were previously considered impossible to map accurately.
Bill shock for roaming
These maps can be downloaded for offline use, which is just as well, given recent research which suggests UK mobile users could be potentially hit by mobile bills of £465 a day if they opt out of automatic limits imposed by operators and use a “modest” amount of data.
uSwitch says that although mobile operators are forced to impose caps for roaming within the EU, there is no such regulation covering the rest of the world, and the average cost of 1MB of data is £5 among UK operators.
Even switching data roaming off might not help. Based on the average roaming costs of eight networks and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), making and receiving one five-minute phone call to the UK, listening to a two-minute voicemail message and sending ten texts would cost £21.22 a day.
“However tempted you are, don’t opt out. Every megabyte costs an average of £5, which could result in a huge post-holiday bill,” warns Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch. “Instead, England fans should keep data roaming switched off and make the most of free Wi-Fi in hotels and cafes. The other option is to buy a local SIM card, put it in your phone and top it up once you get to Brazil. Finally, give your network a call before you leave as they may be able to advise a bundle that’ll keep a lid on costs.”
After the costs of tickets, accommodation and travel, bill shock could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Some fans aren’t even willing to take it that far and will watch the tournament from the comfort of their armchair.
However, with games kicking off as late as 02:00am UK time, many will be reliant on technology to keep up with all the action. Samsung says 44 percent of fans plan to record matches to view as-live at a more agreeable hour, although 22 percent admit they will switch off if the match gets too boring. Samsung hopes things won’t get too boring since it is banking on a ‘World Cup effect’ boosting sales of its TVs.
For those staying up, all matches will be available to watch live in the UK on BBC iPlayer and ITV Player on smartphones and on the web, with tens of millions of people expected to stream games over the Internet during the tournament.
According to Cisco, live streaming and highlights by users around the world will result in an additional 4.3 exabytes of Internet traffic over the next month.
Other broadcasting initiatives include the BBC trial of 4K or ‘Ultra HD’ transmissions from Brazil, while anyone who is travelling to the World Cup might be able to watch live matches in the air for the first time.
Sport 24, a round-the-clock in-flight live sports channel, will broadcast all 64 matches on a number of airlines, including Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.
“For the first time in its history, the FIFA World Cup will be broadcast live by some 180 planes of commercial airliners including Emirates,” says Niclas Ericson, director of FIFA’s TV Division. “It is one of the many innovations we are introducing for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, including 4K, 8K and a whole host of multimedia services.
“This pioneering move into in-flight viewing also opens up new possibilities and new audiences for FIFA as we seek to promote and develop football around the world.”
However a tournament with such popularity is bound to attract unwanted attention. In addition to the numerous safety warnings issued to those attending the World Cup, web and mobile users are being warned of phishing scams, fake tickets and dodgy links being peddled by cybercriminals hoping to take advantage of people’s love for the beautiful game.
But even in a football-mad country, people’s infatuation with the sport has waned. Brazil has been beset by protestors angered by the amount of public money being spent on a football tournament when it could have been used on essential public services. Indeed, Adobe says 42 percent of Brazilians on social media have expressed sadness, anger or disgust related to the World Cup.
Protests have continued right until the eve of the World Cup, but some are voicing their dissent online as well, with hackers from Anonymous Brazil bringing down a number of World Cup-related websites, including government agencies, and targeting a number of FIFA partners with DDoS attacks.
“Issue-motivated groups have long used major sporting events as a platform to promote their cause,” says Edward Parsons, senior manager in the cyber security at KPMG. “This kind of attack is the modern equivalent of crowd protests outside an office. Cyber-attacks have become a popular way of gaining notoriety and publicity, though it’s not clear what motivations were behind this attack but could well be the issues that have seen Brazilians protesting almost daily.”
Regardless of local opinions on the World Cup, it is clear that technology is central to the tournament in a way that could never have been envisioned when the first tournament took place in Uruguay in 1930. Perhaps the Germans wish that some advances, specifically goal line technology, had been in place for ‘that’ goal at Wembley in the 1966 World Cup final.
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