A winning approach to stadium connectivity

Sports stadiums present some unique connectivity challenges, yet with the right cellular coverage solution in place, these venues also offer huge monetisation opportunities for owners, operators, sports clubs, and service providers. And for the dedicated fans? A priceless experience!

This year will see an estimated $6 billion spent on the construction of sports stadiums in the US and Canada alone. Seventy million people in the UK, meanwhile, attended a live sporting event last year, contributing £1.9 billion to the economy through ticket sales and hospitality services. The sector continues to grow and stadiums are being upgraded and expanded – as well as new arenas being built – to cope with demand.

As stadiums get bigger and better, so too do the expectations of fans. The physical capacity of arenas can be increased to deal with higher footfall, but equally important is the need to increase cellular capacity to handle the huge increase in attendees sharing videos with their friends, posting updates to social media, or taking advantage of new in-stadia services.

Large-scale coverage, small-scale footprint

Sporting events attract massive audiences. Venues in the US such as Michigan Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Ohio Stadium can support over 100,000 people, while North Korea’s Rungrado 1st of May Stadium tops the list with a capacity of 114,000. These numbers equal the population of many towns and city districts – for example, at a recent event at Wembley stadium, the volume of data consumption was equivalent to a city of one million people – and therefore require a similar level of cellular coverage.

Urban areas must support a relatively stable number of citizens using their devices sporadically, at different times of the day and night. Stadiums on the other hand must cope with sudden, massive influxes of visitors using data-intensive applications simultaneously – followed by a rapid decrease in number as they leave, and almost zero when the stadium is empty. Public safety in venues of this size is also critical, demanding a communications system which supports but community between emergency services such as the police and fire services.

Delivering large-scale, city-sized capacity to a small-scale venue-sized footprint therefore presents a pretty unique challenge! The energy-consumption and running costs for the former are high, but with capacity unused for long periods of time, many venue owners and operators were historically wary to invest in adequate coverage solutions. There’s also the challenge presented by temporary sports structures, in which athletes and viewers require huge data capacity for just a short period. London 2012’s Olympic Village, for instance, hosted more than 160,000 people during peak times.

Compounding these challenges is rapid growth in required capacity – traffic is more than doubling in stadium environments. This results in a short renewal cycle, meaning owners must upgrade comms solutions every three or four years to handle demand and support the advent of new connectivity standards.

idDAS takes gold

Cobham Wireless has consistently proven that these challenges can be addressed and overcome. Our idDAS (intelligent Digital Distributed Antenna System) is providing scalable, upgradeable, and cost- and energy-efficient capacity to major sports stadiums (as well as rail and metro links, underground tunnels and other venues) globally. Our list of successful deployments includes Wembley and the Emirates stadium (home to Arsenal FC), London’s 2012 Olympic Village, and Berlin’s outdoor Fan Mile, which has welcomed over one million partygoers for its New Year’s Eve celebrations.

We’ve demonstrated that you don’t need masses of hardware to deliver the massive capacity demanded by sporting venues. A digital DAS system offers venue owners a single platform for both cellular and public safety coverage, and the ability to shift capacity dynamically around huge sites. So, capacity can be scaled up within a football stadium when there’s a big match on, and then scaled down – or shifted to an adjacent venue, like a hotel – in the evening, when the fans disperse.

Baseband processing is focussed in a central location, and management takes place virtually in the cloud. Using idDAS reduces the number of base stations and antennae needed (which can be difficult to incorporate into the structural design of stadiums), and supports multiple operator networks over a single infrastructure, reducing the total cost of ownership.

A futuristic fan experience

idDAS is already optimising the fan experience and minimising running costs and energy consumption for venue owners. So, what can we expect in the future? Our system is easily upgradeable to support 5G, which will open the door to a whole host of monetisation opportunities, and a truly futuristic in-venue experience.
Some services, like mobile payments and pre-ordering food and drink via smartphone app, are already in place in many locations. Availability of these will increase, coupled with interactive services such as replays in real time, and augmented reality features which allow fans to overlay player stats and game info on their connected device as the action unfolds.

Venue owners, meanwhile, can drive returns on their network investments by offering different levels of connectivity to different ticket-holders, upselling connectivity services or including them in premium-priced VIP boxes, for instance.

idDAS delivers a win-win for stadiums and their visitors. Rather than struggling with patchy cellular coverage and missing out on sporting spectacles, fans can enjoy and enhance their experience. And, thanks to a future-proof capacity solution, visitors can look forward to innovative new services with the arrival of 5G – no matter the size of the stadium or the size of the audience.

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