Three types of networks, one foundation for connectivity

Connectivity is the lifeblood of the modern stadium. Gone are the days when fans were fine with not being able to post photos and videos to social media or send text messages. To meet their expectations and provide maximum coverage through the venue, stadiums should use all three available network types: Wi-Fi, private and public mobile networks. One just won’t be enough.

Most stadiums already use Wi-Fi so fans can access the internet, social media and messaging services, and provide generic connectivity for administrative systems related to ticketing, concessions and merchandising. Its big advantage is that it is fully controlled by the stadium operator, which can adjust the wavelength as needed to avoid interference between fans’ smartphones and the devices required for day-to-day operations. Wi-Fi also allows for the collection of anonymized user behavior-tracking data, which carriers typically do not share. This data can then be used to further optimize the fan experience by improving how crowd flow is managed, for example.

5G mobile networks—both public and private—offer the massive capacity, high security and low latency necessary to support a growing ecosystem of advanced applications like IoT, augmented reality and high-definition streaming video. They’re also extremely reliable, even in high-volume conditions. Private networks overseen by the stadium operator deliver maximum levels of control, whereas the carriers manage public networks. A neutral host distributed antenna system (DAS) can ensure the entire stadium is covered and each carrier receives equal service.

Implementing these technologies isn’t easy. In fact, the sheer scale of what must be done can be a shock to some stadium operators. It takes many base stations, antennas and access points to ensure ubiquitous coverage and end-to-end capacity. For example, Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, has 665 dual-band access points under the seats, on the field, in back-of-house and overhead. That’s a lot of equipment to deliver wireless connectivity, not just for fans’ smartphones but also the many cameras, displays, speakers and other devices throughout the venue. And none of it can operate without a familiar foundation: fixed networks backhaul and power.

The cabling, in particular, adds up very quickly. In London, the 62,850-seat Tottenham Hotspur Stadium required 1,200 kilometers of fixed cabling. That’s five meters of cabling for every seat—or to put it another way, the distance from New York to Chicago!

There’s also the issue of aesthetics. Modern stadiums are very sleekly designed, and the last thing fans want to see is ugly communications equipment blocking their view or spoiling the experience. Fortunately, today’s connectivity technology can be installed without ruining a stadium’s visual appeal: through installations flush with ceilings and walls, or by using radio-frequency permeable skins to blend in with the background.

Building for the right outcomes

Designing a stadium with advanced connectivity requires thinking about outcomes and goals first. What are you looking to deliver to fans, teams, retailers and sponsors? Once that’s determined, work backward to determine the technology requirements. This kind of advanced planning is essential. Building out Wi-Fi, public and private networks is significantly less expensive when all three are done at the same time, during the design and construction phase.

An experienced partner can help not only with planning the infrastructure, but also with minimizing disruption. During the NBA season, for example, a venue can’t afford any downtime around gamedays, of which there are 41 per year, plus playoffs. A venue like Los Angeles’ Arena puts on 250 events a year, from basketball to hockey to concerts, so upgrades and maintenance have to be carefully thought out. A good plan can ensure the work is done in a way that doesn’t interfere with major events.

Key attributes of a successful partnership in this space

Finding the right infrastructure partner is essential to successfully build a stadium of the future. But what are the things to consider when looking for one?

First and foremost, when we say “the right partner” we mean the right partner for you, your needs and your objectives. If you have a strong vision for your stadium of the future, you need a partner that has the experience and capabilities to realize it. So, you should ask yourself three questions: Has this potential partner done this before? How did they do it? And can I see it?

Secondly, you need a partner you can trust and with whom you can openly communicate. A partner you know will make the technical choices to achieve the best outcome for you, while you focus on your strategic priorities. Otherwise, there’s a very real risk of investing in solutions that don’t meet your needs or aren’t focused on solving the right problems. The best approach here is to find a partner that is vendor-agnostic; one that will look for the best solution rather than trying to push specific technologies from specific vendors.

Lastly, we recognize that the decisions made today will transform a venue for the next five or 10 years, or longer. So, the right partner must realize that they’ll need to work to meet not only your current needs but to futureproof your venue by anticipating upgrades as they build. Whether it’s installing more than enough cabling so they don’t need to add more later, or ensuring the infrastructure is set up to easily accommodate new spectrum as it becomes available, you should be able to trust that your partner is in the mindset of helping you lay the foundation for the future.

The right partner is the one committed to helping you make the right choices for your venues today and tomorrow.

This blog was originally published on Forbes and was written as one in a series exploring the themes examined in our whitepaper titled ‘Technology enablers for stadiums of the future‘.