The battle for internet connectivity is fought in the stands

August 2017 – The way in which we view live events is changing. Go to any football match or music concert and you’ll find a sea of mobile phones held aloft, as spectators try to capture a moment of magic, whether it be a last-minute goal, that fatal red card or face-melting guitar solo via the photo or video function on their handsets. But the excitement doesn’t stop there. Spectators then turn to their favoured social media application to share the moment with family and friends, but it’s here when the frustrations kick in. Internet connectivity problems are more often than not the barrier that stops the clip or image being posted. At this point, the end user is faced with a conundrum – do they log on to the venue’s free but overloaded Wi-Fi or do they persevere with the often not-fit-for-purpose 3G/4G connection? Either way, they shouldn’t be forced to choose between the best of a bad bunch. In today’s digital world, the technology exists that enables service providers to give end-users a highly reliable network they can join that has the capacity to withstand the demand for sports fans and gig-goers alike to share their momentous and sometimes historic occasion with their family, friends and followers.

End user demand

One of the major challenges in the telco industry today is keeping up with end-user demand. The trend in capturing the action via mobile devices at live events isn’t new but the desire and need to post and share via social media in real-time is increasing. In a survey by ticket seller Ticketfly, 31 per cent of respondents said they spent at least half of the time at live events using their phones, sharing experiences with friends and family – and at this year’s Glastonbury festival EE saw 54TB of data used over a long weekend . That’s more than twice the amount consumed last year, and it was mainly caused by people uploading more photos and videos than ever. Service providers must keep up with this expectation from consumers or risk losing customers and revenue. So how do they do this? While standalone Wi-Fi has been a tried and trusted resource, its isolated access points only allow a small number of attendees to gain internet connectivity. And even when the lucky few do connect, due to the high concentration of users in a small area, upload speeds are often very slow and that all-important post fails.

How to overcome indoor connectivity challenges

There are many challenges that service providers are faced with when looking to deploy indoor and stadium connectivity. Access rights, cost of deployment, maintenance, capacity and coverage are but just a few of the issues they’ll encounter. In a bid to tackle these challenges, service providers should adopt a neutral host solution. By doing so they’ll reduce operation costs; reduce speed of deployment and time to market; offload responsibility of network maintenance; provide service for multiple operators and strong, consistent wireless coverage. Adopting an Evolved Packet Core (EPC) solution will further support this approach by providing a fully-integrated, cost effective LTE mobility platform. Service provider headaches regarding subscription levels will be eased by the scaling capabilities of such a solution, as it supports the varying numbers of end-users accessing the network at any given time. Throughout any event, there will be peaks and troughs in connectivity as the action ebbs and flows, and the network must be able to cope with this.

A whole new world of features can be offered

With good underlying infrastructure in place, venues can offer a host of features to the end-user, including the much-talked about LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B). Essentially, LTE-B is a multimedia broadcast multicast service, that supports a single stream of multimedia data that can be accessed by multiple devices, deployed in conjunction with an EPC. Venues which offer this service will provide attendees with live HD video streams on their devices with different camera angles, as well as watching instant replays and accessing stats and figures. In turn, these offerings will help teams and stadiums monetise options through their own applications. We’ve already seen Turkcell trial this technology at a basketball match in Turkey with success.

We’ve also seen how LTE-B technology has been used for large scale push notifications like security information while also connecting digital signage and even becoming a platform for the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable sponsors and advertisers to interact with fans and send targeted offers and rewards to smartphones. Research has shown that 60 percent of millennials say that they are interested in receiving push notifications about deals on food, drinks, merchandise, and possible VIP experiences while they are actually at an event so the appetite for this is definitely there[i]. With these early trailing successes, surely others will soon be following suit.

Unlock the capabilities and make mobile phones part of the experience

The demand for internet connection at live events is constantly rising. There is a shift in the mindset of gig-goers and sports fans. They no longer want to switch off from the world to be mesmerised by their favourite band or player – they want to share their experiences with their friends and family in real-time. Service providers must implement the infrastructure needed to support this, and crucially, monetise this user demand and marketing opportunity. However, without a reliable, underlying network infrastructure, Wi-Fi and 3G/4G networks will not be able to withstand the tens of thousands of subscribers accessing the network, and similarly, end-users may soon also come to expect the enhanced user experience that LTE-B can provide. Therefore, it’s up to service providers to unlock these capabilities to make mobile phones part of the live experience. Download and upload speeds and network connectivity no longer have to be a frustration for fans, as long as service providers have an EPC solution in place they can rely on.