WiMax hits the racetrack

A test of Sprint Nextel’s wireless network provided interactive data for attending fans.
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At the Michigan International Speedway, race fans who rented FanView A/V wireless display devices got a taste of the video and data capabilities of WiMax.

NASCAR fans in Detroit recently got a taste of high-speed WiMax technology applied to their favorite high-speed sport. It was part of a test of Sprint Nextel’s next-generation wireless network.

At the Michigan International Speedway, race fans who rented FanView A/V wireless display devices on Aug. 18 and 20 got a taste of the video and data capabilities of WiMax.

While displaying the live racing video, the FanView device accesses the race radio broadcast; up to seven in-car camera channels; direct audio feeds from the pit and driver; and a live feed from the official timing and scoring system.

Metro Detroit and Grand Rapids residents, the “Detroit News” reported, will be among the first in the nation to receive WiMax, with Sprint planning to spend $2.5 billion to launch the technology in those two cities and 17 others by the end of 2008.

It was NASCAR fans, however, who have been able to rent or buy FanView devices since last season and get a first look at WiMax’s potential.

Rob Addley paid $50 to rent his FanView unit for the day at Michigan International Speedway. He told the “Detroit News” that he liked getting the race information and in-car camera views he’s used to seeing when watching NASCAR on television.

WiMax technology is similar to WiFi computer networking with the exception that the signal covers a much larger area. It is also much faster, capable of processing up to 4Mb/s — nearly that of a cable modem.

An auto race seemed ideal to showcase the technology. “As this technology grows, you’ll be able to put every conceivable piece of information about the race on a device in the stands,” said Roger Entner, senior VP for IAG Research. “People could someday watch interviews of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as they wait for beer during a caution flag.”