Access is Everything

Recapping the Tech at Soccer’s Super Stage

Robert Roble Editor, SportsTechie

Throughout June and July, approximately 600,000 international visitors traveled to Brazil, and a large percentage of them arrived without game tickets. To accommodate this colossal crowd, companies the world over offered innovative solutions for everything from cell service to security, while others developed new ways to beam the games to the rest of the world. This was truly the most secure, tech-centric World Cup ever.

Connecting the Crowd

It’s been estimated that investments of roughly $309 million were required to accommodate the large flow of data and processing associated with the 2014 World Cup, according to Ernst & Young Terco.

The Internet content-delivery network Akamai expected to manage up to 2.5 million live content streams at any one time through their secure network (compared to 1.6 million at the 2010 South Africa World Cup). Peak data traffic on a daily basis was calculated to need 25 terabits per second (Tbps), nearly double the average of 15 Tbps.

Simply adding capacity was a difficult task that required more than cloud-based computer servers. According to John Bates, chief marketing and strategy officer at Software AG, an IT services company, “The biggest problem for service providers is the computational explosion associated with managing billions of transactions every second. This requires things like streaming analytics and in-memory architecture, and all this has to be done in real time.”

National telecoms also received major upgrades from Brazilian telecommunications company Oi, which allowed for Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity for social media savvy fans. Brazilian 2G, 3G, and 4G connectivity saw improved coverage at important events in the tournament cities. Additionally, Grupo Oi expanded their Wi-Fi networks in high-density public areas to offset any heavy data users on their cell networks. Oi said it ramped up from 78,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in April to 700,000 in July, creating Brazil’s largest network.

To transmit all that data between the stadiums — and around the world — carriers increased fiber-optic networks connecting the 12 host cities, while adding antennas to major hotels, team training centers, and public locations. Telefonica Brasil installed 65 new cell towers at the main World Cup sites.

Protecting the Crowd

Among the many security measures taken at the 2014 World Cup, there was a 7.2 km no-fly zone surrounding every stadium during all 64 matches. Some commercial flights were cancelled and others were rerouted. Brazil deployed Air Force fighter jets, hi-tech helicopters, and Elbit UAVs for fly-overs featuring high-resolution, night-vision, and thermal cameras that watched from above.

The Qylatron automated, self-serve bag-screening machine invented by Qylur gave match-goers more control over their belongings without sacrificing public safety. Security was also enhanced through cutting-edge surveillance drones, robots, and inspection machines, all managed from a dozen command centers.

Central command centers were installed in each of the 12 World Cup cities, with top-tier centers in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Security and safety had to be built into all stadiums. World Cup stadium operators monitored video from separate security stations. Stadium designers made certain no hidden areas were created, and emphasized that important locations be visible to cameras and monitors. Security crews had central surveillance systems in place to identify emergencies.

Smart Stadiums, and Their Future

Twelve stadiums were built or refurbished with technology top-of-mind. According to Ben Veernbrink of Stadium Consultancy, turnstiles were required to allow for the entry of 660 people per hour. Tickets that had bar codes, came from mobile device screens, or were printed at home also needed to be accounted for via verification technology.

A new feature used smartphone apps to cross-reference databases with a ticketholder’s eye retina or fingerprint. The Arena da Baixada in Curitiba used an access control system, created by American firm Johnson Controls, that linked the Web portal where fans purchased FIFA match tickets and registered to attend games with local police databases.

But what happens to these stadiums now? Some will be repurposed as public parks, and there are plans to keep them as event-based venues. Architects Axel de Stampa and Sylvain Macaux have even proposed Casa Futebol, a project that would transform the stadiums into affordable housing. Their plan calls for installing a modular unit design that lets the original functionality of the stadiums remain.

How the World Watched

The coverage of this year’s World Cup was record-breaking, to say the least. Sony installed HD cameras that captured over 2,500 hours of play during the event, a new digital World Cup record.

The BBC streamed three World Cup matches in 4K ultra HD for the first time. The technology sends a signal at approximately four times the resolution of current 1080p HD TV video. To make this happen, a satellite network capable of handling 100MB per second was used.

Best World Cup Ever?

Also new to this tournament was the Exoskeleton suit used during the opening ceremony on June 12. Designed and constructed by 156 scientists from around the world, it was truly a smashing way to define and open the tournament. This year also marked the first use of goal-line technology since it got approved for soccer in 2012.

While the Brazilian team didn’t make it to the final, it wasn’t at a total loss for the soccer-crazed country. With all the technology that went into this year’s World Cup, Brazil’s team has a running start on the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The fan experience and security has never been better than it was for the nearly 3 million people that attended the 2014 World Cup. A staggering 4 billion viewers watched on TV, mobile devices, and gaming consoles; smartphones and tablets enabled viewing, tweeting, voting, and wagering simultaneously, creating a multi-screen World Cup for the ages.

Images courtesy of Gabriel Smith

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