Wembley’s 4G connectivity solution: It’s alright for some
As England’s national stadium bids to become the ‘most connected in the world’ – does every fan attending a game stand to benefit?
At the end of May, thousands of fans watching the FA Cup Final in Wembley were able to trial the newly installed 4G network, provided by EE as part of an eye-watering six-year sponsorship deal to make the stadium the ‘most connected in the world’.
While any effort to help ensure fans can stay connected while watching a game within the stadium is to be applauded, the reality of the Wembley case is that not everyone can take advantage of the improvements.
Provider and technology issues
For starters, only mobile users on the EE network are currently able to take advantage of the reported 400mbs ‘4G+’ speeds available across the stadium. Though EE eventually plans to launch ‘network-agnostic’ coverage, the fact that a large proportion of Wembley attendees (i.e. those on other network providers) can still only tap into standard 3G speeds – and face the usual connectivity challenges of high-density locations – is currently a major shortfall of the service.
Even if the full service is made available to users on other providers, however, the second challenge comes with the technological suitability of the smartphone handsets being used. Only a handful of handsets on the market at this time are able to harness the fastest 4G+ speed available at the stadium, while even accessing standard 4G requires an LTE-enabled handset built from around 2013 onwards (e.g. the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5). Again, this requirement may well shut out large numbers of fans attending Wembley from benefiting from the billboard connectivity advertised.
4G cost implications
As well as the limitations around provider and technology, the Wembley 4G connectivity also has significant cost implications for users. The cost comes with accessing the data itself, with either a monthly phone contract or pre-purchased data bundle being required to access the 4G network. While such contracts and bundles are becoming increasingly more popular, it is still a significant regular financial outlay that for many will not be affordable.
Furthermore, when using the Wembley network to its full potential and taking advantage of the various audio-visual benefits advertised (e.g. high-definition replays and commentary), it won’t take long before a serious dent is made in a monthly data or bundle allowance.
Why WiFi holds the key for stadium connectivity
The limitations of the Wembley 4G network could be both overcome and improved on with the installation of an efficient WiFi network.
Compared to the situation in the USA, UK stadiums are lagging far behind in providing free WiFi to fans that is suited to the coverage and capacity challenges of a high-density location. Furthermore, as City AM reported in May, despite the huge sums that the football market commands, the lack of investment in stadium connectivity could be putting the dampeners on commercial opportunities to be gained from the growing ‘mobile-first’ era.
Naturally, the biggest hurdle for clubs and their management is the high costs (estimates of between £500,000 and £1m) and complexities (e.g. requirements to work with multiple providers and retro-fitting existing infrastructure) of installing and managing a network.
As ever, choosing the right provider is key to getting a robust free stadium WiFi solution off the ground and overcoming the finance and expertise conundrum.
As if installing and managing this service at no cost, ever, wasn’t enough, intechnologyWiFi also has ownership of its solution from end-to-end. We own our WiFi equipment manufacturer, we own the technology to manage the network in the stadium and we have the in-house expertise in content and monetisation.
intechnologyWiFi is also part of Intechnology plc, owned by a true pioneer of the technology and football industries – serial entrepreneur and self-confessed football fanatic, Peter Wilkinson. As well as being the founder of Freeserve (the UK’s first free internet service provider for consumers), Peter created Planet Football, the first provider of official free club websites, in partnership with many of England’s top clubs, and Sports Internet Group, which was later sold to Sky as a £300m business (eventually becoming SkyBet).
If you would like to discuss your options for developing a free end-to-end WiFi solution for your stadium, please get in touch. The team would love to speak to you.
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Whether you’re a local authority looking to provide public WiFi or seeking a connectivity solution for Smart Cities, the IoT or 5G / Small Cells in your town or city, or if you are interested in partnering with us around the Connected City Platform in any of our forthcoming town and city roll-outs, we’d love to explain more about who we are and what we do.