Wi-Fi solutions provider Xirrus announced today (4 April 2013) that Liverpool FC – one of the world’s most historic and famous football clubs – has deployed its wireless arrays at Anfield, the home of the Club since its formation in 1892.
The first phase of the deployment covers the two-tier, 12,000-seat Centenary Stand and adjoining corporate facilities, enabling fans to access and share digital content during games.
The Wi-Fi network will be available to Liverpool fans for the home game against West Ham on Sunday 7 April. By offering Wi-Fi to its fans, Liverpool is hoping to improve their overall match day experience and encourage them to share the excitement of the game with the global Liverpool fan base. It also opens up a new way for Liverpool to gain insight and feedback from its fan base which hasn’t been possible up to now.
Andrew Robinson, Head of Digital Media and Technology at Liverpool Football Club, explained: ‘Running our own data network based on Xirrus technology means we can provide our fans with a dedicated, robust and high quality experience. The added reliability and performance of high capacity Wi-Fi over 3G connections will encourage our fans to use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to share their experiences with fans unable to make it to the game.’
Robinson continued: ‘A massive driver for this new network is that we can gain more insight into our fans than ever before. Sign-in will be via a one-time registration process using an email address and fans will be encouraged to tell us their likes and dislikes. The technology will allow us to find out what devices fans like to connect with the Club on so we can invest in digital platforms accordingly. We will also find out more about how fans use the stadium and its facilities so we can adapt these to better serve them.’
Wireless design integration specialists WDSi Group is providing design, installation and commissioning of the complete network from the edge to the core.
Its chief operating officer, Andrew Ramshaw, said: ‘WDSi has significant experience with designing and deploying high performance Wi-Fi networks and robust end to end digital solutions at stadiums around the world. Xirrus high capacity Wi-Fi is an ideal solution for challenging environments in stadium arenas, and we look forward to seeing the fruition of this project and building more networks in the near future.’
Interview with Andy Robinson, Head of Digital Media and Tech at LFC
Speaking to Wireless ahead of the launch of the Wi-Fi system, Robinson said: ‘Until now we didn’t have any public Wi-Fi at all, just press capability, but we have done a lot work to improve this; some technology based, some not. For example, we have installed a proper sports café and ticketless entry, so Wi-Fi was a logical extension for us, as getting a good cellular signal is almost impossible in a stadium.
LFC hasn’t ruled cellular improvements but felt that as Anfield is an old stadium with space constraints to provide access for the equipment, small cell Wi-Fi technology would be a better option. In addition, it felt that fans would mostly be using their mobile devices to access data rather than for voice calls, so a Wi-Fi network seemed to be the way to go.
‘The other thing,’ continued Robinson, ‘it that with a private wireless LAN we can manage it ourselves, which is good politically, rather than having to hand it off to a mobile operator, which would give us less ability to shape the offering. So, a Wi-Fi network has better benefits for both the fans and the club.
‘From the fan perspective we are giving them access to what they do in everyday life, access to the Internet, but in a stadium context, along with value added services. It is a starting point experience which we hope will be quite appealing. We will provide in-match stats, food and drink offers, access to online retail and the ability to place bets in play through our partner Paddy Power.
‘They can also interact with the club via social media, as can fans outside of the stadium and beyond the UK,’ he said. ‘They will have the ability to do real time ordering, and participate in polls and competitions. There is also absolutely the possibility to open it up to other third parties.
LFC has deployed Wi-Fi in just the 12,000-seat Centenary Stand so far. Robinson explained: ‘We’ve done one stand, which features a mix of hospitality boxes and general seating, so we get the mass challenge and this will give us a sense of the different ways that people might use the offering. This will help us define the experience moving forward.
‘We want to know how the fans use the service, get feedback, give exposure to our partners and find out more about the fans. They only have to register once and that extends our reach and gives us the ability to get feedback on the service itself.’
Robinson added: ‘Providing Wi-Fi should give us some very tangible revenue upsides and some softer aspects too in terms of providing a better experience for fans. We also hold conference and events here and these days you have to provide good Internet access. We held a live voting test at one of our conferences to use the Wi-Fi and enable people to vote in real time.’
Vendor selection process
Commenting on the vendor selection process, Robinson said: ‘There are a lot of Wi-Fi options out there, although it is still a relatively embryonic technology in terms of the marketplace. We wanted a solution that would meet the demands of mass capacity and scalability of the experience. A good working relationship with a potential partner is important, along with a cost effective solution, reliability and flexibility.
‘We also wanted a solution that gave us the ability to easily switch out kit and upgrade it, both for hardware (with Xirrus you can switch out the radios or add more radios to a chassis without having to install new cable runs) and for software upgrades.
The efficiency of the installation was another key consideration for the Club. ‘We wanted to be able to push the equipment out and minimise cable runs.’
On the final choice of Xirrus, Robinson explained: ‘We looked at a number of options, but decided to go with a leader in this space. Xirrus combines a flexible range of wireless hardware solutions with the capability to handle huge capacity and bandwidth demands.
‘Xirrus has very innovative technology that allows us to prioritise key applications and connect more devices to the network by optimising Wi-Fi spectrum usage. These factors are critical to our long-term vision of providing our fans with the best match-day experience possible.’
LFC undertook some prototype testing with the hardware before committing to the install, including extensive site survey with Xirrus and WDSi Group. They studied what the airwave traffic looked like and there will be more tuning and channel planning to do to ensure no RF overlaps, along with ensuring that the power levels on the radios are right and so on as the network goes live following the game against West Ham on Sunday 7 April 2013.
In conclusion, Robinson told Wireless: ‘I’m very happy with what I’ve seen so far. It’s an encouraging start. We will do follow-up survey work on people who have signed in and find out what they are using it for and when. We’ve created this experience layer as a landing point and kept it all very open. We are not restricting how it can be used. We need to find out how people want to use it first, rather than impose our views on them.’