Academic’s signal-boosting app heads to more football stadiums

A smartphone app – developed by a University of Sussex academic - that boosts phone signal in big stadiums is heading to more football grounds around the country.

Albion appA screenshot of The Albion app

Ariel view of Amex stadium and Sussex campusThe American Express Community Stadium, home of Brighton and Hove Albion FC, is across the A27 from the University of Sussex.

With the new football season getting underway this weekend, thousands of fans will be able to give the red card to poor wi-fi and phone signal during matches by downloading the free digitalStadium app, which creates a network between phones in the stadium to share bandwidth.

The digitalStadium technology enables fans and the club to communicate with each other during a match, providing real-time information on other key games, league table stats and travel information.

Fans can also take part in Twitter debates and competitions such as Rate the Ref while watching the game, while a live ticker feed delivers the latest news, views and special offers from the club.

The technology was developed by a team led by Dr Ian Wakeman, Senior Lecturer in Software Systems, and has been on trial for over a year at Brighton and Hove Albion FC, whose stadium is just across the road from the University.

Now, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Middlesbrough, Queens Park Rangers and Watford have signed up to use the technology for their own signal-sharing apps, available for iOS and Android devices.

You can download the Android versions and the iOS versions of the apps now.

Many football clubs want to develop better contact with fans during matches using digital technology, but the cost of equipping a stadium with the necessary wi-fi infrastructure is around £400,000.

The steel and concrete structures also make it difficult to get a signal – especially when there are thousands of other phones in use.

What makes the digitalStadium app unique is the software solution that supports it. It enables smartphones to act as mobile computers and build networks with other phones in the crowd. Even small bandwidth capacity can be exploited across a large group of people.

Dr Wakeman has set up a University spin-out company called TribeHive to commercialise the software, with support from the University-owned Sussex Innovation Centre.

Dr Wakeman says: “With the new generation of smartphones, we can start to democratise the means of communication, helping people to pool their resources and co-operate, rather than compete for the limited resources available from the phone network.

“I'm passionate about getting computers to communicate, and passionate about football. It’s wonderful to bring the two together.”

Brighton and Hove Albion fans have certainly been impressed:

"The app was a godsend on the final day of the season,” said Simon from Patcham. “It's hit-and-miss as to whether you can get a signal at the Amex, but the app meant I knew the ever-changing scores and league positions throughout the afternoon.”

Paul from Chichester found the app “easy to navigate”. He said: “I especially like the live score bit and the club feed even though I don’t have a Twitter account!"

And Dave M from Worthing hailed the app as “user friendly”, adding that it is “great to have all related Albion information in one place”.