Check Out These Major Trends in Large Venue Connectivity
Emerging wireless technologies promise to provide networking administrators at large public venues with a powerful set of tools they can use to satisfy skyrocketing bandwidth demands.
Stadium tech is rapidly becoming one of the most important components of an enjoyable event-going experience. “Our competition is not the next stadium down the street or in the next city over,” explains Atlanta Falcons CEO Steve Cannon. “It’s the living room, and the ubiquitous 80-inch flat screen television with the refrigerator right nearby.”
A comfy couch and a freezer full of finger foods aren’t the only elements that fans expect to find replicated at the stadium — reliable internet connectivity is just as essential. As CTO of Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium Jared Miller puts it, “If we have a guest coming into the stadium that wants to be on their phone constantly, we’re going to support them in that. The technology is there to build upon [the sports] experience, not replace it.”
As stadiums and other large public venues (LPV) continue to be built and renovated with an eye toward the digital age, Miller’s connectivity-first mindset will become increasingly common. With that in mind, here are a few technologies that are likely to play a central role in defining the fan experience of tomorrow.
Improved Traffic Management with OFDMA
From digital ticketing and mobile food and beverage ordering to in-game replays and stats and post-game public transportation schedules, today’s stadium experiences already depend on uninterrupted wireless connectivity from start to finish. Unfortunately, existing WiFi standards — most notably, 802.11ac — were designed primarily with in-house or in-office deployments in mind. As a result, when, tens of thousands of fans try to simultaneously upload video of an incredible touchdown grab to social media, there often isn’t enough bandwidth to go around.
The problem with the current standards is not so much speed (in optimal conditions, 802.11ac Wave 2 delivers 1 Gbps-plus speeds), but congestion and traffic-management. This is where 802.11ax, a sixth-generation WiFi standard, will deliver tremendous value to any LPV or large enterprise for which bandwidth management has been an enduring challenge.
Building on the multi-user multi-input, multi-output (MU-MIMO) capabilities of the 802.11ac standard, 802.11ax introduces orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), a development that enables multiple devices to share the same WiFi channel through advanced uplink and downlink scheduling. OFDMA allows an access point to exchange data with a client over a specified channel even if it’s not finished with a previous batch of requests. That flexibility will pave the way for substantial boosts to network performance in a rapid-fire request environment like a stadium.
802.11ax-enabled consumer devices should start finding their way to market by the end of the year, meaning any LPV considering an infrastructural upgrade should be sure to include plans for a new-and-improved WiFi network.
Next-Generation Mobile Broadband
Though its market rollout is significantly further away, 5G mobile broadband represents another powerful solution to stadium connectivity issues. Featuring 10 Gbps speeds, one millisecond latency, and up to 1,000 times more bandwidth per unit area than 4G LTE, 5G has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of what mobile connectivity means.
Industry leaders have already started to experiment with 5G at major sporting events, including the recent Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Intel and South Korean mobile carrier KT transformed the 44,000-person town into a living exhibition of just how much 5G can do. While he was careful to emphasize that Pyeongchang was still just “an early showcase” for the technology, General Manager of Intel’s 5G business Rob Topol enthused, “This is a blueprint of what 5G can look like.”
In a similar move, AT&T used Super Bowl LII as a testing ground for its 5G Evolution service, an early-stage platform on which the mobile giant plans to build an expansive nationwide 5G network in the coming years.
The Only Thing of Which You Can Be Sure
802.11ax and 5G are wonderful developments, but staying on the cutting-edge of LPV networking is an immense — and unending — endeavor. “‘Future-proof’ does not exist in the world of technology,” Miller confesses. “We can only try to project what is going to happen in three, maybe four years’ time.”
This is one of the reasons why an agile networking expert like Turn-key Technologies is such an invaluable asset. At TTI, we’ve partnered with convention centers, sporting venues, concert halls, and more to overcome the challenges posed by high user density, astronomical bandwidth demand, and ever-changing technology. With a wireless site survey from TTI, an LVP can achieve the deep, nuanced insight it needs to build and manage a networking infrastructure capable of supporting a truly next-generation fan experience.