This Industry Viewpoint was contributed by Adam Alevy, Vice President of Technology for Laird PLC’s Infrastructure Antenna Systems group
With travelers, students, car buyers, homeowners and workers wanting – no, demanding – Wi-Fi in their hotels, campuses, automobiles, homes and businesses, is it far-fetched to believe sports fans will want the same in their sports venues in the very near future?
More than 110 sports and entertainment venues currently are being built or proposed for construction around the globe over the next few years. So, smart architects and stadium designers should be casting their eyes towards the future to create the “connected stadium,” which will enhance the fan experience and generate greater revenue opportunities for venue operators.
Consumers worldwide are using their smart devices to digitally interact with members of their go-to social channels, and sharing LIVE action video and photos with friends.
But, today, when 50,000-to-80,000 people start using their smart phones and tablets in high-density environments under one roof – places like stadiums and arenas — their hopes of being able to “connect” and “share” are quickly dashed because available bandwidth falls far short of the demand.
As mobility continues to grow, this issue will eventually impact soccer, football, and baseball stadiums, cricket grounds, basketball arenas, race tracks, and even large amphitheaters around the globe.
Future Fan Experience
In sports venues, future fans can expect in-hand and streamlined access to instant replays, an immersive half-time entertainment experience, and even real-time voting on the Play or Player of the Game, or the “Man of the Match,” all through their smart devices.
The connected stadium also involves the streamlined and regular provisioning of video content, which should be part of the future value proposition provided by stadium administrators. The venue administrators also can wirelessly update scoreboards and other stadium signage for fans through a robust antenna system.
A vital part of attending a large sporting event or concert nowadays is the ability for the spectator to share their experience with the outside world via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube. (It’s safe to assume that social networking will continue to play an important part in the future of the connected stadium, and could potentially even carve out a role in sports programming and brand management.)
The barriers to creating the connected stadium for the wireless spectator can be daunting. Bringing every fan into the front row certainly has its challenges.
By providing an immersive and digital experience, stadium administrators can provide a greater fan experience, but they also can generate new revenue opportunities.
As brands increasingly look to deliver a great “brand experience,” the connected stadium provides an ideal platform for brands to effectively promote their products among targeted audiences. Strong brand and venue relationships are clear, and it’s easy to imagine that brands will virtually advertise their products right into the spectator’s hands through their mobile devices.
Mobile advertising by teams and venue sponsors can provide a lucrative source of revenue, which also helps to maintain reasonable ticket prices. But, mobile advertising relies heavily on video, which is currently too dense to deploy easily across a stadium network to thousands of people.
It’s clear that as high-speed networks and “always on” Wi-Fi services become more prolific, new opportunities to generate advertising revenue will be apparent. For the time being, however, without fully-functioning and high bandwidth network capacity, video advertisements are still largely a pipe dream for stadium owners.
In the future, venues that can capture behavioral and location-based data also stand to provide a more streamlined spectator experience. With robust real-time data, a craft beer company could, for example, funnel its ads to fans, and invite them to visit the craft beer stand located directly behind their section in the stadium.
While the benefits are apparent, consistent coverage continues to be a huge challenge.
Current cellular networks operate with finite resources that have to be used effectively to ensure all users receive a consistent quality of wireless service. Yet, coverage can be “spotty” at best.
This issue lies very much in the oviform shape of the RF frequency which, in terms of signal, can cause black spots at the front and back edges of the stadium. Unfortunately, fans who have paid for these seats could feel short-changed when they cannot find a Wi-Fi signal.
Currently, connectivity in stadiums is split into two very separate camps:
- Cellular – This is entirely operator-owned and its connectivity robustness depends on a number of coverage factors. Of course, the nature of a stadium’s configuration and design can impact cellular coverage inside and outside the stadium.
- Wireless LAN – A stadium’s LAN is owned and maintained by the venue’s administration itself. In response to infrequent and patchy cellular coverage, a stadium’s LAN seeks to overcome the coverage challenges by providing an in-house solution.
Reliable connectivity also is essential for stadium restaurants and administrative office staff. By failing to provide enterprise-grade connectivity for the staff and vendors’ use, the stadium’s operation can be impacted, hindering fan experience and preventing new revenue opportunities.
It is important for the venue operator to consult with RF industry experts to find a solution to any coverage problems in and around the stadium. The first step would be to map the stadium’s infrastructure from a coverage and antenna perspective. Overlapping RF frequencies could be used to ensure a good spread of wireless coverage for the fans’ benefit.
“Sectorization” is another technique for maximizing frequency re-use and capacity enhancements. In most cases, a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) will provide the backbone of the connected stadium’s infrastructure, and will ensure the RF signal is distributed uniformly throughout the venue.
By creating the right “connected” solution, venue operators can ensure a robust wireless infrastructure that copes very well with varying bandwidth demands, maintain the venue’s aesthetics, and ensure effective coverage distribution.
Generally, smart, low-profile technologies can protect “the look” and still provide the needed coverage. Indoor ceiling-surface mount, omnidirectional antennas, for example, are incredibly suitable. Seeking input from a service provider who can customize solutions can be highly beneficial.
As architects and stadium builders construct stadiums and arenas, it would be wise to imagine a whole new game in connectivity the Connected Stadium can provide to supercharge fans and venues alike around the globe.
Adam Alevy is the Vice President of Technology for Laird PLC’s Infrastructure Antenna Systems group. He has nearly 30 years of experience designing and managing the development of antennas for telecom, Wi-Fi, and military applications, including radars and satellite communications terminals. He joined Laird in 1998, and has managed Laird’s antenna technology team since 2007. Adam graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.
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