RealTime IT News

The Dolphins' Wireless Point-of-Sale

It's not some aquatic anomaly. We're talking football here, and a way to serve the fans more quickly and cheaply than before.

Following an initial deployment in the spring, BelAir Networks this fall announced it had deployed wireless connectivity throughout Dolphin Stadium, home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and baseball’s Florida Marlins. In addition to high-speed Internet access in all dining areas and executive suites, the stadium now boasts what BelAir describes as the world's largest wireless point-of-sale system under one roof.

Many of the stadium's hot dog carts, t-shirt stands and ubiquitous beer boutiques still are wired to the wall, but about 35 percent now have wireless connectivity, according to Jim Freeze, senior vice president of marketing and alliances for BelAir Networks.

Besides allowing a degree of mobility among the diverse carts and kiosks, the Wi-Fi connection also ensures a fast, high-bandwidth infrastructure upon which to base point-of-sale (POS) transactions.

The wireless network also boosts customer service in the executive suites where game-goers can place orders with servers. Before wireless, Freeze says, "know how they got the order? It's called pen and paper. They wrote it down and it was 45 minutes before we got our drinks." Using the wireless network, "within milliseconds of it being typed, it gets to a bartender who's started to make those drinks."

Other wireless applications now being tested at the stadium include one that would allow fans to snap pictures with their digital cameras and upload them to the Web to be viewed in real time.

With both the FedEx Orange Bowl and Super Bowl XLI being held at Dolphin Stadium this season, the question of capacity naturally arises. Freeze says the network is up to the challenge. While the stadium does hold some 75,540 people at maximum capacity, he says, even a packed house likely won't mean a surge in wireless use. "Realistically, we don’t think there are going to be a whole lot of people bringing their laptops to the football game," he says.

Dolphin Stadium covers some 300,000 square feet, and that's a lot of Wi-Fi by any measure. Freeze says BelAir brings a number of technological tricks to the table in order to be able to be able to span a structure of this magnitude. It offers single, dual and multiple radio products that have been beefed up with the physical capacity to withstand outdoor installations.

"The way things like this have been done in the past is by using traditional indoor Wi-Fi devices, but those tend to be pretty limited," Freeze says. "They don’t have the power necessary to really cover a broader area, and they are not specifically designed to function outdoors."

As a result, "there is still a perception that Wi-Fi is a 'nice' technology and it's nice to have it on your home router," he says. "But in fact, with the right implementation and some engineering magic, it provides real value."

"Wi-Fi is ready-for-prime-time technology. There are still some who view Wi-Fi as not being able to handle these kinds of applications, but Wi-Fi definitely can handle it. It's not just toy technology."

In recent months, BelAir has been preaching this gospel to a number of potential market sectors, demonstrating the robustness of a Wi-Fi solution to those who may still be skeptical of the technology's muscle.

In particular, the company has been pitching its technology to cellular carriers as a means to help their calls along, while also talking to metro authorities about the citywide Wi-Fi developments that have become increasingly popular in recent months.

"What they have in common is the ability to leverage mesh technology," Freeze says. "The technology lends itself to delivering a tremendous amount of capability in a very cost-effective way. It's also a way to inject a material amount of capacity in a metro area that would be very costly to do in traditional wired methods."

Of course, others have the same idea, including big-time competitors like Cisco and Motorola. To keep pace, BelAir leverages distribution partnerships with the likes of Siemens and Lucent. It would seem the method has merit: Freeze says sales are up 100 percent year over year, and the firm, founded in 2001, just drew $21.4 million in its fourth round of venture funding.