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Internet of things needs more than 'a huge bunch of dumb devices'

Monday, November 3rd 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The technology being used to keep football fans connected inside stadiums can play a key role within the internet of things, according to a communications expert.

Ian Wakeman (pictured), managing director of TribeHive, said ‘dumb devices’ connecting to the internet to transmit data could do so more efficiently.

The company produces an app which fans can download to connect with others in the crowd and share connectivity.

“The coincidence of Brighton opening a new stadium next to our campus at the University of Sussex and mobile phones getting to the point where you can actually build networks between them led to the opportunity to investigate and deploy a delay-tolerant network within a football crowd,” said Mr Wakeman.

“When you go to a football match there are 20,000 or 30,000 people trying to get a good connection out of 3G or 4G and the local infrastructure isn’t sufficient to enable that to happen, so you often struggle to get a connection.”

“Putting Wi-Fi into a stadium is an expensive business – it ends up costing something in the region of £400,000 upwards for a small stadium.

“So the aim was then to say ‘why not use the phones themselves and share whatever capacity you can find to bring in updates for a stadium experience app?’

“When you’re at a football match, you want to watch the football match and concentrate on what’s going on in front of you but there are some things which are interesting on the outside world – things like scores from other games, statistics of the match you are actually watching at the moment and to figure out what times the trains are and what traffic conditions are like.

“So we built an app which delivered those capabilities and we built this platform that when you turn up at a match, builds a network between the phones of the fans at the match and if you can’t get a connection out, someone else might be able to get a connection out and satisfy your request for the current live score of Manchester United versus Manchester City or whatever it happens to be at the time.

“We ran that as a Government-sponsored project in 2012/13 and it all went very well and it worked. We thought ‘this is great and something we should be taking out into the world’, no-one else was doing it so we set up a company to do just that.”

After a successful trial with Brighton and Hove Albion, apps were launched for a further five football clubs and TribeHive is in discussions to bring connectivity to gigs, festivals and conferences.

But Mr Wakeman says the technology will have more uses as devices become more and more connected.

“The internet of things is essentially a huge bunch of dumb devices which you have to make energy efficient if they are going to communicate with the outside world,” he said.

“If you’ve got a smart roadside monitor somewhere out in rural Scotland or in the middle of a field in Afghanistan it’s going to be incredibly expensive for it to broadcast out and talk to the rest of the world directly.

“What makes more sense is for it to communicate to a passing vehicle or a passing overhead drone, to make a connection and pass on the necessary data.

“The technology is being used across a number of transportation environments, it’s being used by the military, it’s up there in space – the technology used to cover the big distances and delays there are in space requires a delay tolerant network approach as well.”

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