How 5G will change the stadium experience
The need for better connectivity
In a 2012 Cisco study, 44% of fans said connectivity is very important to their experience at a sports stadium. That number likely will continue to grow given the increasing demand for mobile phones, a market which currently has more than 60% penetration in the United States, according to Statista. But even with the advances in our network of the last few years, expensive DASs and high-density Wi-Fi solutions are required for fans to have a connected experience in the stadium. However, with new technologies like millimeter wave, beamforming, and massive MIMO, 5G may prove to be the turning point.
“As a cellular technology, 4G is primarily designed for city centers and large public spaces, but not a full stadium,” wrote Gordon Campbell, co-CEO of Stadia Solutions in a guest post on SportsPro Media. “This is a uniquely demanding environment, especially if fans are using data-heavy apps or streaming video.”
Stadiums are, in many ways, the ideal platform for implementing new technologies. They house tens of thousands of people, “viral” content is always being created and digested, and passionate fans are great customers when further monetizing the experience. New consumer technologies including virtual reality, apps that allow behind-the-scenes team footage, and video content like personal replays, all have the potential to enhance the consumer’s experience, while providing new avenues of revenue for stakeholders.
But these new technologies will require a robust network if they are to accommodate a densely-packed environment filled with data-hungry customers. 5G has the potential to offer a cheap solution to the problem stadium’s present.
5G on its way
To address that demand, Sprint, in June 2016, announced it would be demoing 5G at the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament in Santa Clara, California, with partner Nokia. The mobile operator used the 73 GHz spectrum band to deliver claimed download speeds in excess of 2 Gbps per second and “low millisecond latency.”
The carrier said the tests supported live-streaming video in 4K UHD quality and a streaming virtual reality system from VideoStitch.
Sprint also tested 5G at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia during the Copa America tournament. The company used 15 GHz centimeter wavelength spectrum to deliver download speeds up to 4 Gbps. It created an interactive experience by letting fans kick a soccer ball into a connected net that provided instantaneous stats.
Samsung also wants in on the 5G stadium. The company announced it will debut 5G at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea.
“I’d like to emphasize that the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are the perfect times to introduce the key 5G technologies to the world,” Cheun Kyung-whoon, senior vice president and head of the communications research team of DMC R&D Centers at Samsung, said during the 5G Global Summit.
What does 5G mean to the stadium experience?
5G will be making its way to stadiums. But what does that mean for club presidents and fans? Archie Woodhead, COO of InCrowd, wrote about a number of different ways 5G will change current stadium systems.
High Density Wi-Fi
Although high density Wi-Fi has been installed in a limited number of venues in the U.K., providers such as Cisco and Huawei have found it hard to gain acceptance from clubs. With costs ranging from £500K to £2m per venue this is hardly a surprise. In addition, calibrating all the access points in a concrete bowl is an incredibly complicated task and reliability can be a problem. 5G could make the need for high density Wi-Fi completely redundant.
Using Wi-Fi direct (the technology that automatically connects your mobile phone to your Wi-Fi at home), peer-to-peer networking enables phones with the same mobile app to share information in a local network rather than needing to connect directly to Wi-Fi or 3G/4G. If one person has a connection in the stadium then they share the live scores with all those sitting in the same stand.
The more people on this network, the better it performs and for this reason it could become more important when 5G hits the U.K. market and clubs are looking to share larger amounts of data with their fans.
Multicasting is a networking technology that greatly reduces the cost of distributing over any wireless network. If a 1,000 people want to see the same content, rather than sending the same content 1,000 times, multicast will allow all 1,000 devices to register and receive a single sending of the data. Essentially it allows a one-to-many distribution of content (e.g. video) rather than having to replicate data requests from multiple users. This technology can be used by clubs to send out video highlights to fans at half time. Multicast will likely be available in the next generation of 5G systems, as well as its availability in Wi-Fi, and will thus provide a legitimate alternative to a pure Wi-Fi solution.
He also gave a list of elements that would be affected by the new technologies.
- Content: delivering live match analysis, half time replays and ref decisions to fans. TV does this brilliantly and currently fans are less well informed in the stadium
- Participation: enabling fans to take part in voting for the man of the match, betting, predicting the score at half time and even challenging away fans to quiz head to heads
- Logistics: ordering drinks, tickets to the next match, knowing how long it will take to the leave the stadium, upgrading your seat