As the American millionaire investor Thomas DiBenedetto recently prepared to take over the Italian football club Roma, he set out his ambitious agenda: “My dream is exactly the same as that of millions of fans: to turn Roma into one of the best clubs in the world, a team capable of winning the Scudetto every year and finally challenging for the Champions League.”
It’s certainly an exciting time for football fans across Europe, with wealthy consortiums and private backers seemingly queuing up to invest in a multitude of clubs. As the rumour mill churns, supporters are naturally buzzing at the prospect of new players to help push the club up the league table and win silverware. Perhaps the most visible symbol of a club’s status and ambition is its stadium, and no piece of takeover gossip is complete without fanciful ideas for redevelopment or building an entirely new arena.
Beyond the futuristic aesthetics and glass exteriors of most modern stadia, there are many hidden features that make a stadium truly world-class. For example, fans want to share the excitement of the match with friends and family not present at the game, and the stadium needs to support that. Whether it’s capturing the winning goal on a mobile phone camera or calling friends to find out a rival team’s result, all fans now expect a flawless wireless service at every game.
The well-documented phenomenal growth 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 2010 to 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 always increase the demand for higher bandwidth.
As a club’s owners or new investors look to increase its revenue streams, the role of the stadium has shifted from merely hosting matches 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, football stadia increasingly have multiple HD video displays distributed throughout the venue as well, not to mention showpiece scoreboards all running on the stadium’s communications network.
Issues for owners
These issues aren’t just for the highly ambitious and wealthy investors 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 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.
It is clear that for any club to provide the services its fans, employees and ad hoc users demand, a robust network is required that can manage all communications and digital technology in the venue.
To ensure cohesion and reduce potential downtime, it is logical for all digital media to rely on a single integrated network. In addition, installing a network infrastructure that can provide complete control over all systems – including digital audio and video, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, access control and most building management applications – would give the stadium management team increased vision, knowledge and control to heighten the stadium experience.
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.
Flooding the stadium
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, the layout of the stadium inherently makes signal penetration very difficult, requiring a team of highly experienced engineers and designers to ensure that reception is able to flood all parts of the stadium, as well as guaranteeing seamless signal handovers from section to section.
These are precisely the same issues we successfully overcame at CommScope in all ten venues used in the most recent World Cup tournament, 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 distributing 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 performance contribute to reduce interferences and maximize capacity and efficiency. Our industry has an important role to play in the future of football stadia. By supporting the growing number of applications and services running on the wireless and fixed-line networks, clubs can improve the fan experience on match days, as well the working environment for emergency and security services, employees and the media.
These state-of-the-art communications systems aren’t just status symbols for rich investors: they are an essential component of any modern stadium.