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Sports Venues: Where 5G Brings a Truly Immersive Experience

Peter Linder, 5G Evangelist, North America, Ericsson
10/16/2019

We've all been there -- sitting in a packed stadium, struggling to use our phones due to crowds of people overwhelming the network. But what if connectivity wasn't an issue? What if you could send videos and pictures -- even live stream the game with crystal clear video quality -- without any issues?

With 5G, fans will soon have more access than ever with their mobile devices. Sports venues represent a category of "use place" (as opposed to "use case"), a physical location where we can expect 5G to gain early traction. Are you ready for 5G to change the game?

What is the issue?
Professional sports venues require massive amounts of data. At any given game, there are fans, venue owners, leagues, franchises, concession businesses, broadcasters and network operators all attempting to share information as quickly as possible, which has led to a surge in data usage. In fact, sports venues are seeing a 67% growth in data usage, year-over-year.

Currently, a hybrid model of WiFi and 4G is in place to serve the connectivity needs of all of these individuals. But often, this model is not enough, especially as fans begin to demand more, feeling the pull of an arguably better experience at home in front of the TV supplemented by other screens.

Stadiums have been investing in neutral distributed antenna systems (DAS) and annual WiFi capacity upgrades, but the investment has not been enough to keep up with the demand. For example, for Super Bowl LII, Mercedes-Benz stadium required 4,000 miles of fiber and close to 2,000 WiFi access points. As we process more and more data, it is better to have an infrastructure that is able to easily accommodate more data sharing and doesn't require miles of fiber to sustain.

5G will allow for faster data sharing, to enable new experiences such as:

  • Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) technology that will add new digital elements to the fan experience
  • New camera angles that will be available to fans both at home and in the stadium to bring them closer to the action, similar to what AT&T offered at the NBA Summer League
  • Increased opportunities for fans to share information and videos in real-time with their friends outside of the stadium, independent of which network they have
  • Smart, data-driven sporting equipment and cameras that help teams train and track performance
  • Sports betting in states where it is legal, with information sharing at lightning-fast speeds

Why now
Given the increase in data consumption at sports venues, and the fact that live sports accounted for 89 of 2018's 100 most-watched broadcasts, the time is ripe for an innovation that will improve the sports entertainment experience.

Additionally, as professional sports try to offset the current trend of an aging fan base, they need to look to more in-person ways they can benefit their younger audiences at sporting events, which means improving the fan experience both at venues and fans at home or on the move. Some teams have already started to do so.

AT&T connected America's first 5G-enabled stadium earlier this year, at AT&T Stadium. And at the beginning of this football season, they introduced innovative 5G and AR experiences for Dallas Cowboys fans, demonstrating how 5G is beginning to change the way fans interact with the game.

How does it affect you?
5G represents an opportunity for everyone. Leagues and franchises can evolve live experiences, adding more interactive opportunities and engagement with fans. Spectators can view the game in a way that they never have before. Stadium owners can reduce their current method of incremental network investments. This will mean stadium owners could be able to stop investing in more routers for free WiFi, which doesn't drive incremental revenues, and instead leverage the full benefits of 5G.

Additionally, 5G presents a new opportunity for stadiums to partner with one network partner to build out a comprehensive network for their stadium. This will allow networks to turn whole sports venues into a 5G "use place," allowing fans to see the service and speeds a provider is able to provide at their favorite venue, even when there is a high concentration of fans.

What is the bottom line
Although WiFi and 4G won't go away, with 5G there is an opportunity to focus future network investments on 5G, which will ultimately better serve fans as it blends live and digital experiences more seamlessly.

5G has the potential to transform the sporting events for fans, whether they watch in the stadium, at home or on the go. And these transformations will go beyond just sharing on social media on your smartphone. 5G could empower everything from increased AR/VR experiences to live stats and data-sharing in real-time. The opportunities are endless. But one thing is clear, whether you are watching the game at home or at the stadium, 5G will change the way fans watch the game.

— Peter Linder, 5G Evangelist, North America, Ericsson

This content is sponsored by Ericsson.

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