Is your stadium ready to support 5G?

April 9, 2019
By ELIZABETH STEPHAN, Belden -- People will experience 5G through their mobile (wireless) devices, but the capabilities of these devices depend on behind-the-scenes wired and fiber-optic connections

By ELIZABETH STEPHAN, Belden -- As IoT continues to take hold in stadiums and arenas, wireless networks are connecting growing numbers of people – and the devices they carry, which connect users to unlimited data.

In addition, there is another layer of connectivity at play today: Devices that aren’t controlled or managed by people (think PoE LED lighting fixtures, surveillance cameras and digital displays, for example). Instead, these devices connect directly to the network and operate independently. Embedded sensors capture and relay data over networks in real time to improve processes and experiences.

Mobile and wireless coverage have become as vital as a utility – something that’s just as needed as water, electricity and gas. As demands continue to increase, new capabilities will be needed to support them.

Related: The practical IoT

The Emergence of 5G Capabilities: How They’re Different

Every iteration of mobile phone networks was created with a specific purpose in mind:

  • 1G was introduced in 1982 to support analog voice
  • 2G was introduced in 1991 to support digital voice and messaging
  • 3G was introduced in 1998 to support data and multimedia service (like email)
  • 4G/LTE was introduced in 2008 to support IP voice and data, as well as video and mobile internet service
  • 5G – the latest generation, coming this year – is designed to support IoT and Big Data

5G capabilities will significantly improve data capacity and throughput. Experts predict that data transmission speeds will increase by at least tenfold as compared to 4G speeds. Upload speeds will also improve to support faster, more reliable content sharing.

This fifth-generation technology allows mobile phone networks to operate on a wide variety of frequencies and guarantees much lower latency than its predecessors (one millisecond or less), making it an ideal way to support IoT device sensors that gather and report real-time feedback.

Despite everything going on behind the scenes in these connected venues, stadium-goers will no longer experience lag, buffering or downtime when they use their devices to upload and download content alongside thousands of other people doing the same thing.

These new capabilities open up many opportunities for fans, security and facilities staff, coaching staff and athletes:

  • Improved guest services with real-time information about inventory levels and availability at concessions and retail shops
  • More efficient maintenance, with smart waste and recycling receptacles that send alerts when they need to be emptied
  • Faster emergency response times and direct communication with onsite first responders through localized data, notifications and intelligence
  • Better-flowing pedestrian and vehicle traffic thanks to sensors that keep tabs on patterns and make adjustments accordingly
  • Segmented critical communications to ensure private, 24/7 operation that is separate from other network traffic
  • Improved navigation as fans use geolocation to find one another (or locate specific services) in large crowds and venues
  • Support for augmented reality, 4K streaming, enhanced content and different camera viewing angles
  • Always up-to-date apps with the latest info about wait times, game/player stats and food/beverage options
  • Valuable health and player data for athletes, medical staff and coaches through uniforms with embedded sensors

The Impact of 5G Capabilities on Networks

The new capabilities of 5G will enhance employee and customer experiences, improve safety and streamline building operations. To do so, it will require a robust network that can accommodate the needs of a densely packed, data-hungry venue. People will experience 5G through their mobile (wireless) devices, but the capabilities of these devices depend on behind-the-scenes wired and fiber optic connections. 5G can’t exist without a high-performance, reliable, robust wired and fiber backbone.

See Also: How the cabling industry can prepare for 5G

5G uses much higher radio frequencies than today’s existing cellular networks. These higher frequencies carry large amounts of data across very short ranges. For 5G to work as expected and provide multi-gigabit service to users and devices, many additional “cells” covering small areas must be installed throughout a venue.

These cells redistribute signals from cellular carriers through the air or via direct line, bringing them inside and/or dispersing them across a vast area. Without them, carriers struggle to get their signals indoors. Based on application size, they may take the form of femto cells, small cells, enterprise radio access networks (RAN), distributed antenna systems (DAS) or Cloud RAN (CRAN).

The cells will connect many times more devices to the network at once, requiring a connection to fiber cable to take advantage of lower latency, higher data rates and 24/7 reliability. By bringing fiber closer to the edge of the network, stadiums and arenas can take advantage of 5G’s improved bandwidth and capacity levels.

Going Beyond Game Days

Because stadiums and arenas are no longer standalone venues, mobile and wireless connectivity must extend beyond the buildings themselves.

Moving outside, concourses and plazas connect fans to the indoor action through large video displays. It’s no longer just about catching the big game, but also enjoying unique and fun experiences in and around the venue. In today’s mixed-use developments, sports venues provide a hub for year-round entertainment and gathering – even on days when there are no sporting events. Surrounding restaurants, shops and hotels also need mobile and wireless connectivity to support a seamless experience across the entire area.

5G capabilities will be the connectivity enabler for the small “cities” that pop up around stadiums and arenas, supporting up to 1 million connected devices per 0.38 square miles as compared to approximately 2,000 connected devices per 0.38 square miles with 4G.

For example, before, during and after an event, nearby restaurants can send fans in that area access to exclusive deals through their mobile devices. If embedded sensors in IoT devices indicate long wait times to exit parking garages, an adjacent hotel may invite fans via their smartphones and messages on smart screens to relax in their lounge while traffic clears out.

Related: New mobile infrastructure options undermining DAS in enterprise market?

Are You Ready for 5G?

The launch of 5G later this year will bring enhanced capacity and lower latency straight to your stadium or arena, transforming the digital experience for fans, athletes, coaches and staff inside and outside the venue. Belden can ensure that you have the right fiber optic cable system in place to support these enhanced 5G capabilities when they arrive. Want more information? Visit

Since first joining the Belden team in 2005, ELIZABETH STEPHAN has worked closely with large venues and Fortune 1,000 clients. With a background in working with stadiums and arenas, she helps some of Belden’s key clients invest in the right broadcast, AV and network infrastructure to support emerging technologies and applications. She helps professionals in the entertainment market ensure that they’ll be ready to provide unforgettable fan experiences.

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