In a recent interview, England captain Steven Gerrard spoke about the importance of working together as his team prepared for the Euro 2012 Championships: ‘We’re united, we’re together. We’re all after the same thing, and that’s a win. There’s no divides. We’ll make sure there’s no divides because that’s something that we don’t need.’
Not only can there be no divides in a football team, but to make a successful stadium there should be no divides or issues in its communication system either. If you look beyond the futuristic aesthetics and glass exteriors of most modern stadia, there are many hidden features that must be thought out carefully if a stadium is to be a true winner.
Share the excitement
For example, many fans now want to use their smartphones to share the excitement of the match with friends and family who are not at the game. Whether it’s capturing the winning goal on a mobile phone camera or calling friends to find out a rival team’s result, fans expect stadiums to provide a flawless wireless service at every game.
The relentless rise in data consumption makes this a significant challenge for stadium designers. Cisco estimates that worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 26-fold in the period from 2010-2015, making it clear that any stadium’s communications system must be designed with next generation technologies in mind.
We already see significant numbers of high definition (HD) videos being recorded and distributed at matches, but new innovations, applications and services will add to the existing demand for bandwidth.
As stadium owners look to create new revenue streams, the role of the stadium has shifted from merely hosting sporting events to full time offices and venues for all kinds of business and commercial events. As in any large enterprise environment the use of IP devices, such as telephones, security cameras and PC terminals, is increasingly common.
In addition, stadia increasingly have multiple HD video displays distributed throughout the venue, not to mention showpiece scoreboards all running on the stadium’s communications network.
These issues aren’t just for the largest stadium owners to consider, they are key issues facing the majority of stadium owners today. Data consumption over wireless and fixed-line networks is increasing exponentially and many stadiums don’t have the infrastructure in place to cope with it. In the football world, this problem is further complicated by weekly surges in demand inside the stadium – in many cases ranging from 40 people on a quiet day to well over 40,000 on a match day.
In the Olympic stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine, where CommScope’s technology is in place, around 65,000 spectators attended the Euro 2012 final between Spain and Italy on 1 July 2012 – many of whom used smartphones to voice their support for their respective national teams with friends and family, and on social networks.
In order for stadiums to provide the services required by modern day sporting fans, employees and ad hoc users, a robust network is required that can manage all communications and digital technology in the venue.
Instead of operating several separate networks within a stadium, it makes sense to deploy a single integrated network. Network management can be simplified through installing a unified infrastructure that provides complete control over all systems – including digital audio and video, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), access control and most building management applications, which gives the stadium management team increased vision, knowledge and control to heighten the stadium experience.
In addition, the mobile network should also be integrated into the infrastructure so that capacity peaks can be managed more effectively, as well as controlling independent wireless systems for security and emergency services.
However, stadiums do present unique challenges in providing wireless connectivity, as match days require a network capable of supporting the equivalent of a small city located within a single structure.
In addition, stadia suffer from interference from the outdoor macro network and between the internal adjacent sections, requiring a team of highly experienced engineers and designers to ensure that reception is able to flood all parts of the stadium with a clean dominant signal, as well as guaranteeing seamless signal handovers from section to section.
These are precisely the same issues we successfully overcame at CommScope in all 10 venues used in the most recent World Cup in South Africa. In these venues we deployed distributed antenna systems (DAS), which work by taking a donor feed from a macro cell via a repeater or a dedicated base transceiver station, and then distribute it over fibre and/or coaxial cables throughout the building. A dedicated radio base station connected to a DAS ensures both dedicated coverage and capacity, confines the signals, prevents signal spillage and interference and thus enhances the quality for both voice and data services.
DAS systems can also be installed to support multiple operators. After all, it will be of no use to stadium managers if subscribers of only one mobile network operator have access to voice and data services. This intrinsic ability to provide a shared infrastructure that can be efficiently used by multiple wireless operators makes DAS extremely attractive from both an economical and a technical point of view.
While the cost-sharing factor is obvious, it is also worth noting that the technical advantages of a shared solution with reliably consistent radio performances contribute to reduce interferences and maximise capacity and efficiency.
The telecoms industry has a key role to play in the future of stadia. By supporting the growing number of applications and services running on the wireless and fixed-line networks, improvements can be made to the spectator experience in the stadium, as well as the working environment for emergency and security services, employees and the media.
Even if they were not supporting the winning team, that should offer some comfort to the 65,000 people at the Euro 2012 final and everywhere else that people come together to watch their teams.