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The Wireless Stadium Evolution and Revolution

By Seth Buechley
December 18th, 2014

FistAmericans love football almost as much as their smartphones. Stadium technology sits in the middle of these great passions, so keeping ahead of the demand curve is a huge task for those of us fortunate enough to be in the wireless industry. Don’t be alarmed, but significant change is underway in stadiums and arenas around the world.

As you read the articles or experience live games at the stadiums highlighted in this edition of the Stadium Tech Report by Mobile Sports Report, you’ll come to understand that ensuring a quality game-day experience doesn’t end with the roster, coaches and playbook. It also shows up as blazing-fast upload and download speeds; the ability to watch replays on mobile devices from different angles than what’s on the Jumbotron; and a host of mobile applications whereby a fan can buy and receive a new Russell Wilson jersey without leaving his seat and identify which restroom location has the shortest wait line.

Law of Supply and Demand

I recently attended an Oregon Ducks game at Autzen Stadium, which is supported by a brand new distributed antenna system (DAS) currently serving the nation’s two largest operators (learn more here). I observed again how we fans use our smartphones to memorialize and share our experiences.

Wireless industry experts forecast that the consumption of mobile data will increase more than 6 times over the next 5 years. However, within certain highly concentrated locations such as stadiums, the demand for mobile data is expected to exceed macro capacity not by a factor of 6 but, rather, by a factor of 10, 15, or perhaps 20, according to research from iGR (learn more here).

Put simply, wireless capacity demand on game day at venues that hold 20,000, 50,000, 80,000 or 100,000-plus fans outpaces supply. Which is why, as evidenced by surveys conducted by Mobile Sports Report, the majority of NFL and many college stadiums have deployed DAS or Wi-Fi or both to densify the macro network.

Advancing Our Connected World

Remember the “The Right Stuff”? The movie, adapted from the Tom Wolfe novel, details the race to space against the then-Soviet Union where success was measured by going higher, farther, and faster. The fledgling U.S. space program required both evolutionary and revolutionary strategies and solutions. Our industry’s wireless toolkit must similarly advance to ensure that our connected world includes the stadium.

Today, that means the ability to scale to address near term capacity demands and the KPIs of multiple wireless operators and, in many cases, essential two-way radio and public-safety communications. All this must happen while venue owners and operators are also focusing on minimizing cabling infrastructure and space requirements in public and “head end” areas.

But, in the near future, the wireless toolkit must become significantly more intelligent to deliver additional revenue services creating value that extends far beyond basic connectivity. For instance: Metrics and analytics that can be used by the venue for one-to-one marketing programs with fans; the ability to precisely locate a fan who is in need of emergency care; or dynamic routing of capacity from inside the stadium to outside the venue after the game and ultimately to areas along major roadways or public transportation.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.26.35 AMWhat’s Coming and When

Evolution is about improving existing solutions by making them faster, smaller, or cheaper. The original Mini Cooper was evolutionary because it was small. Revolution is when a radically new platform or approach is introduced. In keeping with the automotive analogy, Tesla is revolutionary because it is different. Both have merits but only one represents an industry step-change.

DAS and small cells are evolutionary wireless network densification solutions built upon architecture deployed within the macro network but sized for deployment at the venue. Both continue to evolve at a brisk pace and today represent the most cost-effective and efficient method for filling in the capacity holes at venues.

In contrast, the next-generation networks will look vastly different from today’s approach. Fundamentally, these networks will be distinguished by a fiber infrastructure and network intelligence. These revolutionary networks will be nearly infinitely scalable and enable support for multiple RF- and IP-based services as well as over-the-top (OTT) applications. Most notably, they’ll enable virtualization to “shift” capacity to where it is needed within the network and deliver network and user analytics to provide new ROI business models.

We believe we’re in the late stages of the network evolutionary period and that revolutionary solutions will emerge over the next few years. The wireless industry has a perfect the opportunity to innovate and deliver sports fans unique experiences at their favorite stadiums.

(Note: this article by SOLiD president Seth Buechley recently appeared in College Football issue of the Stadium Tech Report from Mobile Sports Report in which SOLiD is a sponsor)

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