Our Smart Stadiums and how they create smarter cities – EFTM
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Our Smart Stadiums and how they create smarter cities

wifi at the football, and a whole lot more

We’re starting to take this whole “WiFi everywhere” thing for granted, just as we do the expectation of good mobile data connection – not just the ability to make calls.  It’s because of social media and our thirst for online connectivity that it’s so important.  So how can we take the technology at stadiums and help make a smarter city?  We travelled to Amsterdam to find out.

Having attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as a guest of Huawei, it was a short hop over to Amsterdam with them to peek behind the scenes at the home of AJAX – not the cleaning company, the football team – Amsterdam Stadium.

This place is mega – its not a huge stadium in terms of capacity but as a bit of infrastructure it’s bloody impressive.

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52,000 seats, with Ajax having 42,000 members it means it’s a hard slog getting tickets to any game.  Huawei provided the WiFi solution to the stadium as they are for Aussie stadiums like the home of the Gold Coast Suns Metricon Stadium.

And that doesn’t mean a router on the pitch, this place is packed – and I mean packed with WiFi access points.  Just around the main roof along the 50 beams supporting the structure there are three access points per beam each one with dual antennas for the 2.5 and 5GHz networks – and that’s just for the top tier of seats.  150 access points.

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Interestingly, the stadium also has its own 3G and 4G antennas throughout which all the mobile networks use – meaning a consistent coverage for all the networks – an interesting approach.

WiFi means people can surf and social to their heart’s content, but interesting as we’re seeing in Australia – data isn’t really a barrier for use of your mobile plan any more – so with good Mobile coverage there isn’t a compelling need to use the WiFi.

In fact, during an average game, between 10,000 and 13,000 people will use the WiFi, peaking at something like 8,000 concurrent users.  Impressive, but hardly what one might have assumed for 40,000+ fans.

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Huawei and the stadium are going to soon launch an App that has more compelling content within it.  It could be live or immediate game replays, or perhaps the ability to order food to your seat – though that hasn’t been well received in trials.

Perhaps more powerful is the way that the data obtained by the stadium can be used to improve the service to fans, and streamline their own capabilities.

Walking the halls of the huge convention centre in Barcelona for Mobile Wold Congress – I noticed a screen that Cisco had set up to show a heat-map of traffic at the venue.

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This was staggering to me, because it showed how powerful WiFi was – not just to those connecting to it, but to those providing it.

The convention centre operators are able to follow you.  Completely anonymously, just because your phone has WiFi turned on.  With WiFi on, it’s consistently “seeking” WiFi networks.  And your phone has a unique number (MAC Address) which means they can track this down to an individual.

Using beamforming and signal strength they can determine the almost precise location of every person walking the halls..

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This means high traffic areas can be identified, as well as seeing clearly where people are stopping to “dwell” across the convention halls.

If you do connect to the network, they can also analyse the types of traffic they are carrying – and of course Facebook comes out on top.

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Plus, what’s most staggering about that example – at the world’s biggest mobile phone show – where Apple is not in attendance – is that 44% of all phones detected were iPhones.  A slap in the face to the many others there!

So what does it all mean?  Well in a convention centre they can sell space at a higher premium if traffic is high.  They can also perhaps re-map the centre to aid traffic flow.  No matter how you look at it, its compelling data.

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And using the Huawei WiFi network Amsterdam Stadium can do the same.  A heat map of users in the stadium can show seating usage as people flow into the venue, but if the WiFi network is expanded outside of the seating itself, to the gates, public transport stops and things like that they can see and have automated alerts about peaks in traffic – they can allocate security or staff to higher traffic areas.

For fans, using the App, they could potentially see which toilets are less busy, or which food stands have the shorted queues.  The possibilities are endless.

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Amsterdam Stadium was built almost 20 years ago, not unlike Sydney’s Olympic Stadium – it was built-in a rather run down and certainly unpopular area.  The stadium and other venues in the area have transformed the location into a hub for Amsterdam with great transport, easy access, and new housing.

This is quite similar to Homebush for Sydneysiders.

And using the overwhelming weight of traffic, combining the stadium , concert centre, cinemas and other facilities which could well mean 100,000 people using an area in a short window of time – new innovations in safety, security and transport among many other things can be trialled and tested.

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It’s interesting to think that what goes on in our stadiums is actually a great micro experiment for a broader smart city.

Could it also be that the provision of “Free WiFi” in cities is not just a great service to consumers, but a great tool for authorities and even law enforcement to monitor the flow of people in areas – looking for exceptions to the norm to react to – rather than hoping to see and find things on random patrols.

The future is amazing, and Amsterdam Stadium sure is putting its efforts into shaping the future Stadium and the future Smart City.

Though for some reason the grounds keepers just can’t let go of the push lawn-mower – they love it apparently!

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Trevor Long travelled to Barcelona and Amsterdam as a guest of Huawei, details at the EFTM Disclosures & Commercial Interests page

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Tech

Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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