The system, developed by UK start-up Mobbra, will let organisers send football replays, backstage interviews with pop stars, or area-specific food deals direct to fans' phones. It will also encourage the audience to become part of the show.
Mobbra's technology forms part of a new wave of innovation in indoor positioning. For instance, last week, Google unveiled Project Tango – a phone with 3D sensors that can make a quarter of a million measurements every second to capture and map its position and orientation in any environment. This means you will always know where you are. And so will Google, of course. Developers are due to receive their prototype Project Tango phones later this month to see what they can create with this data, such as turning the inside of your house into an augmented reality games world.
Meanwhile, Philips Research Eindhoven in the Netherlands last week launched a system that lets LED lighting in shops transmit position data to an app. Codes hidden in each LED's imperceptible flicker tell the app where the user is and so can steer shoppers to the right goods and, like Mobbra, alert them to special offers.
With Mobbra's system, dubbed Massivity, organisers can take control of fans' phones to create spectacular effects. For instance, the camera flashlight on each phone could be activated remotely, turning the crowd into a glittering star field. Or a team's colours could sweep around the phone and tablet screens in the venue like a Mexican wave. A host of Premier League football clubs in the UK are investigating the technology and it is a strong contender for the in-stadium wireless tech at the 2015 NFL Super Bowl, Mobbra says.
These kinds of applications are possible because Mobbra has found a way to deliver Wi-Fi to every user in a large crowd. A typical wireless access point can supply just 50 connections – so unless a venue can afford to run an access point for every 50 or so people, Wi-Fi is not guaranteed. Even then, simple radio interference can destroy any chance of stadium-wide access. "Some venues are spending millions on conventional Wi-Fi access points and finding it just doesn't work," says Will Walton, Mobbra's founder.
With Massivity, 500 users can log on at each wireless access point. Because Massivity is patent pending, some technical elements of the system are being kept secret. We do know it manages wireless connections in a more intelligent way: such as adding imperceptible delays to each user's internet access, a process known as time sequencing.
In a test, the Mobbra team charged up 1000 Samsung phones and used two Massivity access points to make them all stream and display the same video, vibrate at once and fire their flashes together.
The phone side of the equation is choreographed by an app called Fangage, which tweaks the phone's Wi-Fi settings. It will launch on the Apple and Android app stores later this month. During a game, all phones could vibrate to tell the crowd of a betting opportunity, or a special food and drink offer, says Walton. "You can have four streams of video, which could be replays or goals from other matches that are on at the same time. At gigs you'll get behind-the-scenes news and backstage interviews with the stars."
Health and safety rules mean you can't take a lighter to a concert these days and hold it up, he says. "But we can illuminate all the camera lights to great effect."
"If one seat block has spare hot dogs you can tell just those people they are on offer behind them," Walton says. Mobbra is in negotiations to provide its service to major gig promoter Live Nation, and also to Virgin's V Festival in the UK.
One London-based gig producer, who preferred to remain anonymous, is impressed by the possibilities: "It could turn every phone in the crowd into pixels of a massive screen so you could show pictures too."
Syndicated content: Paul Marks, New Scientist