Wembley: From sporting icon to the mothership for mobile technology

EE's big project is its future showcase

Wembley From sporting icon to the mothership for mobile technology

Even for those people that miss old Wembley it's nigh on impossible to not be impressed by its replacement. With that already iconic arch looming over a stadium of staggering scale it's not hard to understand why EE would choose this Great British landmark as the self-proclaimed mothership for its latest and greatest mobile technology.

There are ambitious plans for contactless payment and iBeacons that get your ticket ready on your phone as you walk up to the turnstiles. It's also got a well-conceived update to the Wembley app, which should prove invaluable to visitors for sports and events when it rolls out in October for the England San Marino game. Wembley is fully focused on being at the cutting edge of technology.

That project is being led by Rob Ray, the CTO for Wembley and a man whose huge team face a mind-boggling array of tasks both with EE's mobile technology and a mass of ever-shifting projects that cater for everything from the American Football that was being set up when we were visiting to major music concerts.

Rob Ray shows off the mobile phone ticketless entry
Rob Ray shows off the mobile phone ticketless entry

Fortunately, Ray is a man who is clearly enthused by the tasks at hand. He opened his chat by telling us that the stadium was built with a dark room that was quickly given a new role as a cloakroom when digital photography rendered it largely pointless.

Cold Trafford, warm Wembley

Manchester United recently took the decision to ban iPads and other tablets from Old Trafford for fear of undermining the rights of the millionaires both on the pitch and in the directors in the box. So why is Wembley so keen on enabling its visitors rather than stymying them?

"I think that's a good question," says Ray. "The reality is the customers want to do this and interrupting that experience is not what we are about at all. It's about enabling the customer.

Wembley one of the great world stadiums
Wembley - one of the great world stadiums

"So I understand [Manchester United's] position and I understand the rights perspective, but we have to move beyond that.

"Some of [the problem] is 'you're getting in my way' but that's a local issue. For the most part if I travel around the country or Europe [embracing tech] is what I tend to see.

"Plus at Wembley its not just about football it's about five different events which can be very different."

A big deal

EE wasn't about to talk about just how much it had invested in the Wembley deal (although having your brand as prominent around one of the world's greatest stadiums doesn't come cheap) but the decision to use it as a test bed for its next generation of technology is an interesting one.

The grey rectangles are the mobile antenna
The grey rectangles are the mobile antenna

Mansoor Hanif, director of radio networks at EE, explained why Wembley is to be the network's 'mothership', which is expected to bring the first trials of 400Mhz 4G in Britain next year.

"We really feel a common vision, a common vitality with Wembley," he says. "It's the mothership of our network. We expect our customers to come to the mothership and experience how things are going to be. This is where it's embodied and they can experience it it, touch it and feel it."

Even keeping the current infrastructure stable and running is a challenge, with Hanif adding: "Stadia are the most difficult places to manage because so many people all want to do same thing at same time.

Wembley formed a major partnership with EE
Wembley - formed a major partnership with EE

"So for instance, [at football matches] everyone wants to do something at half time. So do you build a massive pipe or find intelligent ways to manage that traffic.