How next-gen networks can win over a legion of sporting fans

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The sporting calendar has revved up with the 2022 F1 Season kicked off. Further ahead in the year, we have the football World Cup, women’s cricket World Cup, Commonwealth Games and the Rugby League World Cup to look forward to, on top of all the regular sporting events every year.

About the author

Paul McHugh, Area Director UK&I, Cradlepoint.

Despite the shutting down of physical events during the pandemic, the virus spearheaded a digital transformation in the industry. It tackled how to continue engaging with fans when they weren’t allowed to attend sports events. The sector had to completely re-evaluate how it delivers its services to comply with constantly changing government regulations and guarantee the safety of its athletes, organizers, and fans.

It was also an opportunity to prepare stadiums for the day fans returned in large quantities. 2022 is the year of the great return of fans en mass at sporting events, and they will be among the first to reap the benefits of next-gen networks. Sporting organizers need to understand the comprehensive benefits these networks will bring to the industry beyond simple connectivity.

Becoming match fit through next-generation networks

While the advantages of technology and data in sport have been well documented over the years, through better performances from athletes, to higher fan engagement and actionable insights, sporting organizers lag behind other businesses on understanding the true value of next-gen networks. In addition, pop-up mobile connectivity services have become vital across the industry — from seasonal sports, to connecting remote locations, and emergency response tents. The industry can now serve fans and sporting bodies in new places and ways, but pop-up services require a temporary network that is secure, easy to deploy, and can be monitored and managed from anywhere.

Far from being just a hyper-fast highway for smartphones to browse the internet, next-gen networks, such as 5G, will have a massive impact on bringing technologies like AI, augmented reality and IoT together, connecting devices and people in faster and more sophisticated ways.

The ecosystem next-generation networks connect and the immense amount of data that runs through them can not only help improve strategic operations, such as monitoring overcrowding through real-time measurement methods, but also manage and improve athletes’ performance, support real-time game analysis, and provide fans with a seamless and personalized experience, which can be all enhanced through pop-up mobile connectivity. Finally, Wireless WAN networks hold the key to pushing the boundaries of extreme sports beyond its current limits, both in reach and, more importantly, ensuring the partaking athletes' continued safety.

Data umpiring for peak athlete performance and fairer results

Studying analytical data involving players and their performances has been a gamechanger to determine weaknesses and strengths. Whether monitoring a player’s performance on the pitch or analyzing a motorcar’s tire temperature on track, data analysis, AI, and IoT connection have become critical aspects of the sport.

However, delivering data analysis in real-time requires ultrafast connection speeds, greater capacity and ultra-low latency. The industry also requires a mobile connection that is flexible in the form of pop-ups. 5G technology achieves this and enables even greater insights, such as monitoring athletes’ health, remote coaching, and fairer match officiating through instant data analysis of the plays. 5G is specifically designed to support billions of connected devices, providing enhanced capacity and lower latency that is needed for immediate analysis and response to situations. This allows organizations to collect, process, and store huge amounts of data at the edge of the 5G network.

A seamless experience for fans

5G plays a crucial role in transforming the fan experience delivered by the sports and media industries. Research by Ericsson has shown that in the US alone, 5G advancing sports fan experience is projected to generate $83.1bn in revenues by 2023 alone. The technology is key in improving the live experience for fans at venues through in-stadium connectivity, bringing fans at home closer to the action with better streaming and the potential of VR experiences, and enhancing live broadcast with network slicing allowing operators to guarantee broadcasters a certain level of performance.

Network slicing is the ability to deliver virtualized “slices” tuned for specific types of traffic over the 5G infrastructure—customizing the network to provide faster upload speeds, download speeds, or lower latency when required for application specific traffic. Network operators can therefore deploy multiple “slices” of the network and customize them according to a specific need or even at a specific time. 5G allows networks to be sliced on an as-a-service basis, with services scaled up and down quickly and easily, ideal for ensuring non-stop broadcasting, experiences and meeting fans' expectations.

Bringing strong defense

An important factor the industry can no longer ignore is the importance of network cybersecurity and safeguarding fans at sporting events. 5G marks the beginning of a new era of network security. As organizations work to securely connect IoT devices, branches, end-points, and fleets, over 5G, enterprise-class mobile networks must have security capabilities written into their DNA.

One of the most effective ways to secure 5G networks is by deploying parallel networks by designating each application to its own isolated network. This physical separation blocks attackers from using a compromised device to enter servers and networks that hold sensitive data.

Expanding reach and escalating extreme

The post-pandemic era has spurred an uptake in both those participating and viewing extreme sports. Next-gen networks play an integral part in three areas associated with extreme sport: athlete monitoring, increased broadcast reach, and enabling ‘pop-up’ locations. Compared to wired-line connectivity, cellular networks are more agile and reliable networks available.

5G can help organizers keep track of participants throughout long secluded journeys where 5G masts have been set up, as seen with mountaineers, sailors competing close-to-shore, or ultra-marathon runners competing in the desert. Sporting organisers are now able to keep athletes connected and monitor their trajectory where satellite connection often fails. This increased reach in connection also expands the broadcasting of remote locations for at-home viewing. And finally, it benefits the ability to organise ‘pop-up’ locations for long-distance and remote sports, further ensuring the close monitoring of athletes’ wellbeing and further expanding the extremity of sport.

The final score

Ultimately, 5G increases the range of connectivity and helps increase the number of use cases for mobile connectivity, while reducing the amount of time spent managing networks through scalable edge networking that can expand, contract, adapt, move, and evolve as sporting organizers' needs dictate.

Ultimately, 5G increases the range of connectivity and helps increase the number of use cases for mobile connectivity, while reducing the amount of time spent managing networks through scalable edge networking that can expand, contract, adapt, move, and evolve as sporting organizers' needs dictate.

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Paul McHugh, Area Director UK&I, Cradlepoint.