Bo Larsson is the CEO of MatSing. Developing a new approach for high-performance, high-capacity lens antenna design.
When fans head into their local stadiums for game day, there are a few things they look forward to: great junk food, beer, checking on their fantasy league, scratchy voices after cheering for their team, and most importantly, getting to share these moments through social media. These are the experiences we seek to foster through the stadium or venue.
Over the past 10 years, technology has become a crucial part of this stadium experience for fans. What began as photos posted the day after rocking your best team apparel has quickly turned into a live streaming event with social media. Every time a player makes a legendary touchdown or 3-pointer, it’s the instinct of the modern-day fan to pull up their favorite app and document the moment. Why? Because they got to experience it firsthand.
The introduction of fantasy sports has brought technology into the stadium in an immersive way yet to be fully explored. While fans are present at a game for the team they root for, they’re constantly checking scores of other games and even watching clips from other games because their fantasy team is built using players from multiple outlets. This creates a constant drive to check how the team they built is performing, regardless of what national team they play for, and creates a demand on each stadium’s network to meet this drive.
While technology continues to progress, these opportunities have expanded, opening the door to the 30-second live streams we scroll through on TikTok and Snapchat daily or sports betting taking place in the stadium directly through mobile apps. These live streaming opportunities provide insight into the moments of a game for those who couldn’t attend, creating clout for the fans able to attend as a resource for those who couldn’t. It allows them to see beyond just scores and commentary and feel as though they’re a part of the stadium fan experience from the comfort of their own home, or compete head-to-head with those at the stadium in the case of fantasy leagues and betting.
If the stadium doesn’t have the bandwidth to support these endeavors, it leads to freezing and the inability to upload, putting a damper on the experience for fans both there and at home. As a result, a couple of new technologies are being implemented to support the high-level need for in-venue internet access: in-stadium wi-fi networks and antennas to boost cellular connectivity.
Both Wi-Fi and cellular are complementary in nature, and both will be needed in venues and will continue to be deployed over the coming years. The key difference between these two schools of thought is how the access point interacts with a given fan’s mobile device. With an in-stadium Wi-Fi network, the device is leading the conversation and choosing which access point is providing the strongest connection. For cellular connections, it’s the opposite; the access point dictates which mobile devices to connect to. The advantage of cellular is in its mobility, security, seamless connectivity and reliability.
One of the more popular antenna enclosure methods has arisen under audience seats. This was first introduced as an alternative option for locations without enclosures to hang traditional antennas from but quickly became a widely accepted method of delivering coverage due to their close proximity to consumers. The problem lies in that these access points can only support 22 – 30 users at a time, meaning there have to be multiple installations in every section of the stadium. This can lead to increased time and work spent installing the equipment and an overall increased price since stadium owners would have to purchase in large quantities.
Transversely, lens antennas provide bandwidth for fan social endeavors by enabling accurate wide-range mobile connection for anywhere from 2,400 to 4,000 mobile users at a time. This allows for a smaller number of installation sites and work needed, combating the initial higher price point for each lens antenna. In addition, with multiple beams originating from each antenna, they can target the mobile connection to precise locations, or sections within the stadium, to support this increased need for mobile connection on-site. While lens antennas seem like an ideal solution, they are just entering the market at a seemingly high price point, meaning they’ll face a lot of skepticism in becoming the industry standard.
For us leaders in this industry, we have an interest in seeing the increased mobile connection available at these large event locations. Outside of the average NFL game attendance of 67,405, there are 17.1 million Americans who engage with the games from the comfort of their own homes, according to a 2020 statistic from Statista. That’s 4.5% of the U.S. population. These are our consumers, and our brands are what they’re seeking to engage with. Not only are we all personally reliant upon our phones as consumers ourselves, but we’re reliant upon them to support and market our businesses.
Technology will continue to play a role in the way stadiums evolve, but most importantly in the way fans interact with them. Today we already see more people utilizing it as a critical part of their gameday experience. As these devices continue to grow and evolve, connectivity problems won’t go away, and all of the technology in place to offset it will need to evolve in accordance. This opens the door to other tech companies seeking to create lasting solutions. Connectivity in stadiums is a necessity and value-add, and a lot is dependent on the network capacity, bandwidth and performance to deliver the true power of 5G for a connected experience.
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