Despite More Shutdowns, Stadiums Have Not Stopped Installing 5G

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Venues across America are demonstrating full faith in the future of 5G in sports, even in the face of the pandemic.

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cnbc.com

Have you seen pictures of the new SoFi Stadium in LA? It has to be seen to be believed. Read just some of the features that this $5 billion indoor/outdoor venue hybrid has:

  • over 3,000,000 sq ft of space.
  • seats 70,000 fans (with the capability of expanding to 100,000).
  • a 120 yard-long 80 million pixel Oculus 4K video board with 260 speakers.
  • a roof made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene that lets the sunlight in while also keeping the stadium cool.
  • 260 luxury suites (one is a huge beach house-themed suite and some others are decked-out bungalows).
  • a 75,000 sq ft Executive Club featuring four bars and an elevator with marble panels.

Looks like Rams and Chargers fans will have more luxurious amenities than any sports fans ever. But we haven’t even mentioned what will be the stadium’s best feature. The one that will certainly please fans the most.

The stadium’s state-of-the-art 5G network.

A Massive 5G Undertaking

Built in tandem with Wi-Fi 6 wireless broadband, this two-stack matrix will provide people inside with data transmission speeds of 2.5 gigabits per second. 99% of American households don’t have anywhere near that speed. Even though you can’t see the 5G mmWave spectrum in the stadium, you most certainly can see the infrastructure that makes it possible. Designing and installing a distributed antenna system in a space this size was a massive undertaking; one that’s still ongoing.

Skarpi Hedinsson is the chief technology officer of SoFi Stadium. According to a recent interview, Hedinsson and his staff are going on 3 years of designing, engineering, acquiring equipment, and installing the massive infrastructure. The cost of this endeavor hasn’t been released. But the investment is certainly off the charts.

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And this isn’t the only large arena in the U.S. with sights set on 5G broadband. Technically, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX (home of the Dallas Cowboys) was crowned in Feb 2019 as the first venue to feature 5G. Truthfully though, the coverage was (and still is) extremely limited. Soon after, an announcement from Verizon stated that 13 more NFL stadiums would feature their 5G network. Though those stadiums now feature Verizon’s 5G, it’s spotty. It’s not available everywhere on the premises.

Recently, it was reported that 43 arenas are now wired for Verizon’s 5G service. Some of the big-name venues here include Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, New York’s City Field, and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

What’s The 5G Status Of All These Places?

The world of stadium owners is one of high competition, similar to the sports they present. Owners are constantly trying to find ways to one-up their competition with a new feature, attraction, or perk that’s unique and desirable. 5G in sports is one of the most anticipated features in recent memory, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. It’s still in its infancy. And if SoFi’s journey is any indication, 5G at the stadium level is a very costly endeavor. Not to mention how incredibly complicated it is to install such an intricate system across such vast square footage.

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Some recent information from COVID authorities suggests that it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that fans at capacity may not happen until 2022. If that ends up being true, it’ll be some time before these 5G investments start paying for themselves.

Considering all of that, the question that remains is this: should stadiums rush to build 5G systems in their facilities simply for marketing and revenue reasons or because all of the fans expect them to? The answer is both.

Live Sports Will Never Be The Same

Sports are becoming more virtually interactive with each passing year. Fans – even the ones in attendance – love to be plugged in, tweeting, sharing, liking, and interacting with the virtual sports world while the game is going on. These fans have come to be known as three-screeners since they watch the actual game, the scoreboard, and their personal device simultaneously. The issue is that current 4G LTE networks have a hard time meeting this demand for the tens of thousands of people in the arena. In other words, major latency.

In a world with 5G in sports, latency is a thing of the past. But the quest for latency-free sports venues is about more than just making fans happy. The venues themselves benefit just as much, perhaps more, from all the posting and tweeting. At the stadium, it’s not really about downloading content. It’s about uploading.

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What’s Realistically Possible With In-Stadium 5G?

Some of the in-stadium enhancements expected to be made possible with 5G are beyond imagination. Seamless multiple camera angles or customizable in-game playback, all from your device. And don’t forget augmented reality. Imagine opening an app, holding up your phone or tablet toward the game, and seeing real-time data overlaid over the players on your screen. These are just some of the suggested applications that 5G will make possible.

Opportunities in advertising are also on the 5G horizon. We already know that the people who spend the most money at the venue are usually the ones having the best, most memorable time. If the presence of 5G in sports increases the quality of experience for everyone there, it’s logical to assume that real-time targeted advertising would be extremely successful. This is what “they” are counting on.

Even simple push notifications that remind fans where the nearest snack bar is or what special items are on sale (in real-time, remember) would represent lucrative opportunities. But in-motion direct-to-fan outreach is what has stadium owners and other relevant parties most excited. In other words, reaching fans in real-time as they move throughout the facility.

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For example, when you walk into a particular area of the stadium, you get a notification with a welcome message and a relevant coupon. Like 15% off any item, or buy-1-get-1-free soda, or even credit card offers with immediate in-store rewards. With the apparently limitless potential that 5G brings to the table because of its extraordinarily low latency, the sheer volume of potential applications seems endless.

5G And Gambling

The sports betting industry is anticipating 5G with great excitement. Placing in-game bets on things like whether or not both a basketball player will make both free throws or if a baseball player will strikeout will be made possible with 5G in sports. Actions like this simply aren’t possible with 4G.

And again, the benefits of betting with 5G aren’t solely for the fans. Corporate entities, service providers, teams, and leagues are looking forward to the many transaction fees that will certainly be associated with in-game, real-time gambling, likely equating to many millions of dollars.

Note: Of the 18 states that have legalized sports betting, only 3 of them allow placing bets via smartphones and tablets. E-bookies, venue owners, and others have been lobbying to loosen this restriction, and it looks like they’re starting to succeed.

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Future-Proofing

Future-proofing is a new term that means a person or company making decisions specifically to enable them to be competitive in the future. In light of what we’ve been discussing here, it refers to venue owners incorporating 5G into their facilities now despite 5G-enabled phones making up only 14% of phones sold in 2020. Not only that, but GSMA (a mobile operator trade group) projects that by 2025, still only 20% of internet connections worldwide will be 5G.

But not everyone is concerned about such reports, namely Skarpi Hedinsson of SoFi Stadium, the chief technology officer mentioned earlier. “We are building our 5G system for the next decades. In the future, whether it’s five years from now, eight years from now, sort of all of the carrier equipment and all of the devices will then migrated to 5G,” he told Adweek in a recent interview. “We’re not building this stadium for 2020. We are simply opening it in 2020.”

The Risks Are Still Apparent

5G’s branding and marketing benefits are still not cut and dry, even if we assume that 5G is adopted quickly around the world. If we were dealing with hotels or cruise ships – venues where a person can be selective based on personal preference – than things would be different. But stadiums aren’t like that. If an Eagles fan wants to watch the Eagles play a home game, Lincoln Financial Field is their only option. People aren’t going to choose a particular stadium just because it has 5G. It’s far from practical.

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However, the branding benefits of 5G in sports could still be felt in arenas. It would simply be more focused on the general public’s positive impression of the facility over time.

But it goes without saying that patrons are absolutely going to have more options at a 5G-enabled venue. Tickets might be more expensive at such venues, particularly if there are optional up-charges for things like augmented reality goggles.

The Pandemic Presents A Unique (Albeit Perverse) 5G Opportunity

It appears that the attitude among stadium owners this year has been install it while you can. However you choose to look at it, the government-mandated lockdowns have provided an ideal environment for 5G infrastructures to go up. Small armies of workers can go in and install 5G systems without any regular season interruptions.

But it’s not just the empty stands that have prompted stadium owners to hasten their 5G efforts. They have dire financial reasons for investing in it (aka future-proofing). $7 billion is the estimated loss the NFL experienced as a result of the COVID-related shutdowns. Other professional sports leagues were dealt similar blows. SoFi Stadium’s gung-ho implementation of 5G is, in a very real way, a calculated measure to come back stronger than ever when everything opens back up. They’re positioning themselves at the forefront of the 5G revolution to maximize their ability to serve patrons in new and exciting ways while also executing pioneering revenue streams. Other venues across the country aim to do the same.

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Despite More Shutdowns, Stadiums Have Not Stopped Installing 5G – Conclusion

When live events return, stadiums want their 5G systems up and running. They want fan experiences to be better than ever because of it. Even after the lockdowns are lifted for good, there are still innumerable types of entertainment all vying for our attention. The events that take place at SoFi (despite being the most expensive stadium ever built) are only some of the options available to the masses. It can likely be assumed that if these venues can make a greater name for themselves with 5G in sports and gain even the smallest edge over their competition, the efforts will be worth it.

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