Armchair quarterbacks go wireless at 3Com Park

By Stephanie Sanborn, InfoWorld |  Networking

IT MAY JUST BE the best of both worlds: the excitement and electricity of attending
a football game with thousands of other rabid fans, coupled with the convenience of
instant replays and updated scores from around the league.

At 3Com Park, home field of the San Francisco 49ers, Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com
is creating a wireless network to deliver just such a spectator experience. The idea
was sparked at negotiations earlier this year over extending the name rights to 3Com
Park -- formerly Candlestick Park.

"There was new ownership with the 49ers," says David Katz, vice president of
strategic alliances at 3Com. "And [new owner John York is] located here in Silicon
Valley, so he's thinking, 'How do I really reach out to the Silicon Valley community
and make the in-game experience much more exciting and attractive to that
community?' "

As an extension of their stadium-name relationship, the 49ers have given 3Com
access to the stadium to develop a wireless network. Using 3Com AirConnect devices,
3Com is installing at the stadium a wireless network based on 802.11b wireless LAN
technology. MarchFirst, a 3Com partner and professional services company, is developing
the applications that will run over the network.

At first, fans will be able to access stats from the 49ers game they are watching,
scores and stats from other NFL games and other sporting events, and general news. In
addition, they will be able to send e-mail and instant messages to friends who are at
the game or on the Internet.

MarchFirst will then leverage the bandwidth of the 802.11b network to add streaming
media features such as instant replays both of the live game and other games around the
NFL. There will also be the release of commerce applications so that fans can order
food and merchandise from their seats and have it delivered to them.

Katz believes this is just beginning.

"Over time, we'll find out what people think are the most exciting kinds of
applications," he says. "There could be an opportunity later for advertising and
commerce related to things outside the park. It may be that people at halftime want to
do their shopping at the grocery store."

The initial group of 150 Hitachi ePlate devices were placed in the 3Com Park luxury
suites, VIP box, and press box during the 49ers' first few home games. Over the course
of the season, the wireless devices will be deployed to about one-third of the park's
approximately 70,000 seats, with expansion through the 2001 season. Eventually, fans
will be able to use their own 802.11b devices to access the stadium network.

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