Date of interview: Tuesday 6th November 2018
Hi, can you please start by introducing yourself?
Hello, my name is Greg Martin, and I’m the Technical Design Authority for High-Density and Connected Stadia at O2. I have been working here for just over seven years, and although my main focus has been on the sports and stadia industry, I also look after complex and high-density Wi-Fi deployments across the UK, for both public and corporate Wi-Fi.
During my time with O2, I have designed and delivered many high-density public Wi-Fi solutions for Football, Rugby, music and entertainment venues across the UK.
How has the role of stadium wireless changed in recent years?
There has definitely been an increase in demand for wireless and it’s a sector where we see a lot of growth. Traditionally there have been small pockets of wireless covering some back-of-house hospitality areas, but in areas where large numbers of people congregate, Wi-Fi has generally offered a poor experience.
The focus now is on deploying reliable high-performance wireless solutions that allow fans to interact and engage during the event. Connectivity is something that fans expect so they can check transport information, upload photos and videos to social media, order merchandise and even pre-order food and beverages. Stadium owners are also leveraging the benefits of Wi-Fi to increase productivity and drive down operational costs.
It’s not just Wi-Fi of course, mobile and fixed also have their part to play, but Wi-Fi is certainly becoming an essential service throughout the majority of venues today. It’s an exciting time for us and we are currently working with several sporting venues on developing their Digital strategy.
What about the operational side of things?
Wireless is becoming increasingly more important for stadium owners and operational teams. They are looking to Wi-Fi for innovative solutions to challenges like communicating with stewards and security staff, digital ticketing, smart compliance, queue monitoring, managing building infrastructure and a plethora of other event day requirements.
Some clubs have a very clear objectives, but many are looking to a trusted advisor like O2 to come in and explain how they can best achieve their goals.
With the number of projects O2 has delivered, you must have a good idea on what works and what doesn’t?
Yes, we have a wealth of experience to draw from. The more projects we successfully deliver the more we know how to best approach a particular challenge. We’ve started to see many more requests from customers and these help us tailor our products and services to better match their business goals.
What are the biggest challenges in deploying stadium Wi-Fi?
The biggest and most obvious challenge is finding suitable mounting locations for the access points (APs). To provide good performance you need to keep the distance between the APs and the clients to a minimum and along with maintaining a small cell size.
We try to use overhead gantries and roofs where possible…If the roof is too high or it’s too difficult to install APs on then we have to look at other options, which could be from the front or behind seating tiers, or shooting out from the sides. The problem with the latter is this is that you then need to factor in the attenuation caused by walls, pillars and the human bodies.
Venues with metal roofs also create a challenge because you effectively have a Faraday cage with RF bouncing around all over the place. Then you need to find the right balance between power levels, SNR, and co-channel interference to optimise and tune the RF environment.
How do you calculate the capacity requirements for a stadium?
It’s a mixture of the capacity of the venue, the expected client uptake, (how many people will want to use the Wi-Fi), and what types of applications the client devices are using.
We are seeing client uptake grow year-on-year. In sporting venues, it sits around 30 to 40%, but in media areas, you see much higher numbers, and the people in those areas usually have two or three devices and are data hungry.
In music venues like the O2 Arena, we see considerably higher numbers in terms of uptake and data usage than sporting venues. This becomes an even greater problem when you have a concert with an artist who attracts a younger demographic. This is because a lot of the fans are live streaming, or uploading photos and videos to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The social media savvy generation are really pushing the boundaries of Wi-Fi and how we deliver it.