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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their thinking with our audience. In this piece Tom Bennett, CTO at connectivity infrastructure-as-a-service provider Freshwave, explores best practice when providing connectivity at large gatherings.
February 5, 2024
Mobile connectivity has never been more important to running a successful live event. Large concert, conference and sports venues are innovating when it comes to attendee engagement, safety, and event planning. Neutral hosts can be key partners in this, extending operators’ networks to meet the ever-evolving demands of consumers in a commercial model that suits venue owners.
For the modern fan, having a good time at events means sharing messages, photos and media in real time; a smooth digital experience is expected as part of the ticket. 5G is bringing even more expectations from fans when it comes to technology.
Event organisers, meanwhile, are fast developing interactive features for fans to digitally enrich their events. From live polls and quizzes to interactive walls displaying social media messages on screens, the demand for unique digital elements is growing rapidly. For these features to work smoothly, fast and reliable connectivity is essential.
Connectivity is also a tool for wider fan interaction, ensuring they can fully engage in the event experience. For example, sports fans who monitor other games, indulge in live betting, or participate in group chats on their phones during breaks in play. Through providing fans with reliable connectivity, organisers add a new dimension of enjoyment to traditional event settings, significantly enhancing the fan experience within the stadium or arena.
Elevating fan experiences isn’t just limited to making events more engaging: it’s also about ensuring fan safety through supporting security and operations. To give you an idea of how many support staff are needed, imagine a stadium that regularly draws crowds of 70,000 fans. This necessitates 15,000 staff across everything from catering to security to stewards. So we’re talking big numbers of people needing seamless connectivity to do their jobs effectively! At music festivals for instance, a robust and reliable connectivity infrastructure allows for real-time monitoring of crowd flows. This not only allows for more efficient event management but also contributes significantly to event safety by preventing overcrowding.
Connectivity can also go some way to ensuring the safety and comfort of fans with disabilities, serving as a highly valued accessibility tool. For example, a wheelchair user equipped with a digital map on their device can navigate the venue efficiently, ensuring a safer and more accessible experience.
By establishing event-specific hashtags, searching for specific keywords, and assessing relevant online metadata, organisers can monitor and analyse attendee interactions on social media platforms. The real-time data generated becomes a valuable resource, offering insights into attendee behaviour and opinions. This connectivity-driven data not only provides a comprehensive view of online engagement during the event, it also can guide organisers in making future adjustments to event schedules and content.
Providing fast and reliable connectivity in high-traffic venues, such as sports stadiums and music festivals, is a challenge, and recognising the distinct connectivity needs of different venues is essential. A sports stadium for example has a concentrated mass of spectators, usually in an urban or built-up environment. In contrast, some music festivals are held in less urban areas without permanent digital infrastructure to support mobile connectivity. In both scenarios the huge influx of people for a short time period places excessive demand on the local macro network. Specific radio solutions are needed to not only support those attending the events, but to safeguard connectivity for the local population.
Different types of connectivity infrastructure can be deployed to meet the challenges posed by live events. A DAS, or distributed antenna system, consists of antennas deployed throughout a venue to overcome coverage gaps by amplifying and extending the reach of mobile signals. These systems are versatile and can be set up to improve the reach and strength of any and all public mobile networks.
In parallel, a private network establishes an exclusive communication channel for event staff and organisers to co-ordinate operations. This dedicated network ensures reliable communication in high-density environments where the risk of network congestion is high, supporting critical functions such as security coordination and logistical management. The uncontested spectrum of a private network enhances data security and minimises the risk of network congestion, helping to make live events run like clockwork.
Owners are often keen for their venue to have the best mobile connectivity possible for all networks. While in some venues an MNO will invest in deploying a DAS and then invite the other MNOs to join it for a fee, this is less common than many years ago due to the wide-ranging demands on MNOs’ investment budgets. And that’s where neutral hosts come in. A neutral host can deploy the mobile network on behalf of all four MNOs and provide an ongoing managed service to the stadium via an as-a-service financial model. This allows the fans, businesses at the venue and operational services to enjoy the benefits of assured connectivity from day one, without the venue having to spend a lot of money upfront via capital expenditure.
Innovation in how mobile phones can enhance attendee experiences at large venues is only going to increase, meaning seamless connectivity for all is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ but an essential part of a venue’s offer. Neutral hosts are a valuable bridge between venue owners and the MNOs, ensuring that everyone can enjoy connectivity, no matter how big the crowds.
Tom Bennett is the Chief Technology Officer at connectivity infrastructure-as-a-service provider, Freshwave. A highly regarded technology leader, having held director-level positions across the telecoms industry in the UK at BT, EE and T-Mobile. Tom combines a deep technical understanding with a collaborative, customer-focused approach.
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