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Washington Nationals upgrade Wi-Fi at ballpark

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The Washington Nationals said Monday that they have invested in a major technology upgrade at their Southeast Washington ballpark that will improve Wi-Fi access for visitors and clear the way for fans to order hot dogs, beer and other goodies without ever leaving their seats.

"When we first opened the ballpark in March 2008, our fans were not utilizing our Wi-Fi network to the extent they do now during an average game," Jason Zachariah, the team's chief technical officer, said in a statement. "We need to increase the bandwidth supporting our Internet service."

Comcast said the Nationals had opted to install a fiber-based Ethernet connection that will drive up download speeds and expand access.

The upgrade will also give the Nationals the technological horsepower to deploy a system that will allow fans to order concessions with their cellphones and tablets, though the team hasn't disclosed a timetable to implement that amenity.

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The aging Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium does not have any public Internet access. A spokeswoman said officials had discussed adding the technology, but they had made no plans for upgrades.

The Nationals' move comes as professional and collegiate sports teams across the United States are scrambling to keep pace with the proliferation of smartphones that generate nifty pictures and 140-character anecdotes but gobble up bandwidth.

Penn State University began offering Internet access throughout Beaver Stadium last fall, about the same time the University of Alabama said wireless companies had agreed to pay the school to add a new antenna system at its 101,821-seat stadium.

And professional teams are also seeking to boost capacity at their venues.

The Verizon Center -- the home of the Capitals, Mystics and Wizards -- installed Wi-Fi in 2010 and has since expanded its system.

The Redskins did not respond to a request for comment, but the National Football League last year urged its teams to add or enhance Internet access.

Major League Baseball has public Wi-Fi access in about 10 percent of its parks with plans for expansion in the future.

"Today's ballparks rely on technology much more than they did years ago, not only to accommodate the needs of their increasingly tech-savvy guests but also to ensure the successful operation of the park," said Bill Stemper, president of Comcast Business Services, which installed the new technology at Nationals Park.

It will be a while before fans have a chance to try out the new system. The Nationals opened a six-game road trip Monday night and won't play at Nationals Park again until April 22.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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