BAMNet, a wireless Internet Service Provider company based on Yardville Hamilton Square Road, is selling a new system that lets high school players, coaches, and fans watch instant replays just like they could at an NFL game.
After buying a wireless transmitter from BAMNet, sports teams (or the organizers of any other event) can record on-the-field action with iPads, and feed the video to up to 2,000 spectators using mobile devices in the stands or on the sidelines. Viewers using the Replay Locker app can pause, rewind, or slow down the action as they watch, and they can keep the video on their devices when they leave.
The technology is a shift in direction for BAMNet, which was founded in 1997 to provide dialup Internet access to remote areas. CEO David L. Sobin, above right, says the idea for Replay Locker came about several years ago when one of the company’s clients on the West Coast asked them if they could build a smartphone-based instant replay system for high school football games.
“He had searched for a WiFi company that could provide a way to do that,” Sobin says. “He started with the big companies and got turned down by everybody. They all said ‘there is no way you can do that. That’s not how WiFi works. You can only have a few people at a time sharing a WiFi signal if you are sharing a video. If more than three or four people use it, it slows down and doesn’t work.’”
BAMNet’s technology relies on a lesser-used WiFi protocol called multicast, in which a WiFi transmitter broadcasts one signal shared by every receiver rather than each device having its own signal. Multicast allows thousands of people to receive the same signal simultaneously, not unlike a radio or television broadcast.
While there are a number of competitors now offering instant replay services, BAMNet differentiates itself by working with multiple wireless cameras, and with thousands of receivers. For crowds over 2,000, more nodes could be used to boost the capacity. Each node costs about $3,500.
BAMNet is now marketing Replay Locker across the country. It has caught on in several California high schools and has proven perfect for coaching football games. Bakersfield High School’s football team used Replay Locker in its 2013 season, in which it won a state championship.
“They won the championship in part because they had a tool the other team didn’t,” Sobin says. “They used replays both during practice and during games. Imagine having the offense coming off the field between plays, and the offensive coach calls them over, and immediately shows them the last play. They can see what they did wrong, or what the defense is doing and find countermeasures by actually watching the instant videos.”
Football is naturally suited to replays because it is divided into discrete plays. A modification was made to Replay Locker to make it work better for continuous sports such as basketball where there are only sporadic breaks in the action. For those sports, an operator of one of the cameras can hit a “highlight” button when something interesting happens, which captures the previous 10 seconds up until the operator presses another button to stop the highlight. That feature allows viewers to focus on scores or key moments in play.
BAMNet recently demonstrated Replay Locker at a flag football game in New York. “The parents love it because they get to keep the footage,” Sobin says. “They get to show their friends, and review it. All the parents who had iPhones or iPads with them were running the app.” The app was also the subject of a segment on the Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton sports show on WFAN in New York.
Sobin has begun the early stages of marketing Replay Locker and hopes to introduce it to more high schools and more kinds of events, such as military training.
It is not the first time the veteran telecommunications engineer has changed the direction of BAMNet. Sobin grew up in Brooklyn, where his father was an electrical technician. “My father used to go around with antennas taking signal strength readings to put antennas on buildings in the best locations to give TV service to apartment dwellers,” Sobin recalls.
Sobin learned to love technology at a young age and graduated from the Polytechnical Institute of Brooklyn at 20 with a master’s in engineering. He went on to work at Bell Labs as an engineer where, in the early 1980s, he ran a group that created DSL, a technology that allowed high speed data connections over phone lines.
“It was the early ‘80s and nobody cared, because there was no Internet,” he says. “In 1994, with the Internet really taking off, I suggested to a vice president that this was something that could change everything.” DSL allowed users to access the Internet without tying up a phone line, a huge advantage at the time. He says he suggested putting money and resources into DSL to develop it to the point where it could compete against its competitors, cable and fiber-optics.
“The person I told that to was later quoted in the trade press as saying, ‘On the Information Superhighway, we view DSL as a cul de sac and we don’t want to go there,’” he says. “I was so upset I quit and took all of my top people with me and started a DSL company that became a division of Ariel Corporation. It was subsequently sold to a Fortune 500 company and we all made out very well.” Ariel’s Communications Systems Group was sold to Cabletron Systems for $50 million in 1998.
Sobin joined BAMNet in 1999. Bamnet had been founded two years earlier to provide Internet access to people in remote areas who could log in by using a modem to dial a toll free number, 10-10-2000. Users didn’t even need to sign up for an account; the charges would just show up on their phone bill.
The company still provides dialup Internet access to a small number of people to this day, but has abandoned the 10-10-2000 scheme. It costs a penny a minute. “Dialup is really a legacy service that we offer out of the goodness of our hearts,” Sobin says.
The company’s main line of business is in providing Internet connections via WiFi, mainly in beach towns on the Jersey Shore and the Florida Keys. Vacationers at beach houses can sign up for a WiFi account for $25 a week. Sobin says the company’s business has declined in several shore towns since Sandy struck in 2012.
The company also sells WiFi nodes that people can use to set up their own local networks and essentially become a local Internet Service Provider, charging whatever they choose for access.
BAMnet currently has six employees in its headquarters. Sometimes, Sobin finds himself out in the field setting up a wireless network, with an antenna, trying to find the best spot for it. “It’s ironic,” he says. “My father would go from mountaintop to mountaintop siting antenna,s and here I am doing a very similar thing.”
BAMnet Corporation, 2561 Yardville-Hamilton Square Road, Hamilton 08690; 609-631-8356; fax, 609-631-8457. David L. Sobin, CEO. www.bamnet.com, www.bamnet.net.