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Tuesday, 06 November 2012 17:27

There's more to Flemington's deployment of Cisco's Stadium Solution than simply Wi-Fi

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Cisco's announcement that it has been chosen to install Wi-Fi at Flemington racecourse was exquisitely timed and full of the usual hyperbole, but it's a good story and it's about much more than just Wi-Fi.

The day before this Year's Melbourne Cup Cisco trumpeted that "The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) is set to lead the field in technology innovation when it deploys the Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi Solution to provide Flemington members and racegoers with the latest in Wi-Fi technology."

The deployment, Cisco said, would make Flemington "the first racecourse in the world to deploy Connected Sports Solutions" and "the most technology-advanced racecourse in the world."

It might be the first racecourse but it is certainly not the first major sporting venue, and the last claim is debatable. The VRC joins Real Madrid CF's Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, New Zealand's Eden Park, London's Wembley Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys' Stadium and numerous others, according to Cisco.

Flemington also appears to be the first sporting venue in Australia to get the technology, a fact that might have been of greater interest to Australian readers, but that's the price you pay for having to re-run a global press release I guess.

Cisco sought to further leverage the fame of the Melbourne Cup by promising that the system would be operational at an unspecified date "before the 2013 Melbourne Cup Carnival."

Strip away the hype and the announcement gave only a hint of what the system will mean, other than supplementing overloaded cellular networks for Internet access, text messaging etc. It quoted VRC's Simon Love saying:

"Reliable, real-time Wi-Fi access on our busiest race days will not only help visitors interact and share their race experiences with friends and families via social media, text and video during the event; it also allows us to expand the ways in which our guests can engage with the venue on a more personalised level - an attractive proposition for our sponsors". (My italics)

It does much more than that, as this article in Australian Leisure Management revealed, back in June.

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(1) Congested cellular networks are a major problem for the operators of sporting venues. "Poor quality mobile connectivity at major stadia and arenas is 'one of the biggest issues facing the venues industry' according to AEG Ogden Group director - Arenas Tim Worton," ALM reported. "People want to post their experiences, their photos via Facebook and other social media but overloaded wireless technology means they just can't."

(2) Solving this network access problem removes one of the many barriers to getting bums on stadium seat instead of sofas.

ALM quoted US National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell saying he wanted WiFi in every NFL stadium. "We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding, and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure that we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and create the same kind of technology...We want to make sure that our fans, when they come into our stadiums, don't have to shut down [because of congested cellular networks]."

He was backed up by Sporting Kansas City CIO Asim Pasha who was quoted saying: "We are getting to a point where fans will not turn up if there is no connectivity".

(3) It ain't easy. There is much more to getting reliable WiFi coverage in a packed stadium than simply installing lots of access points, although admittedly this quote in ALM came from a Cisco channel partner, Southern Cross Computer Systems.

"Two access points operating on the same channel cannot be allowed to 'see' each other over the air, as this causes a problem known as 'co-channel interference', where the signals from two access points on the same channel interfere with each other...[The way] provide sufficient capacity in a high density environment is to increase the number of access points and decrease access point power to avoid co-channel interference, resulting in less coverage. The result of this vicious circle is increased costs from the need for additional access points, plus the extensive costs associated with channel planning."

(4) And last but not least, remember that quote from VRC's Simon Love "[Wi-Fi] allows us to expand the ways in which our guests can engage with the venue on a more personalised level - an attractive proposition for our sponsors."

This is what that means, according to Cisco. "Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi benefits include: unique revenue opportunities, real-time concessions, merchandise and ticket-ordering applications; targeted promotions, advertisements and unique sponsor activations; venue-based services to highlight amenities, provide way-finding, and more."

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Cisco adds: "Previously, because of bandwidth challenges, it has often been difficult to deliver effective advertisements on smartphones in the venue. However, with the Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi solution, sponsors and advertisers can extend their reach beyond the big screen and the displays in the concourses. No longer will smartphones freeze after only half of the advertisement image is downloaded."

It's a good news story all round and contrast it with the Telstra (spoiler?) press release a few days earlier announcing that it was temporarily expanding cellular network capacity at Flemington Race Course to cope with the expected demand.

There was no mention, and likely no potential, for Telstra to offer any value adding services to offset the cost of doing this. And with most people on bucket plans covering voice, text and data Telstra will likely not earn significant additional revenue from the exercise.

There will be intangible benefits from the reinforcement of Telstra's reputation as the operator of the best network and Telstra will gain valuable experience in the deployment of new small cell technology: experience that will be essential for the expansion of its network in the future.

Flemington might be the first major sporting venue to a serious Wi-Fi network. It certainly won't be the last and no matter how much mobile network operators do to improve in-venue coverage, it's likely that sports fans will find that the value add on the Wi-Fi services will make them more attractive.

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